Effective immediately, Vanderbilt’s indoor masking protocol has been temporarily reinstated for individuals regardless of vaccination status when six feet of distance cannot be maintained. According to the university’s June 17 press release, the decision was informed by Davidson County’s upgrade to a “high” COVID-19 community level.
In the press release, the university also encouraged people to avoid eating with others to limit the spread of COVID-19. There were no changes announced to university testing, vaccine or gathering protocols. Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) announced a similar policy on May 26 that expanded its indoor masking requirement to non-clinical areas.
“Throughout the pandemic, the university has followed the latest scientific updates and developed its plans in close consultation with experts at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, as well as national, state and local public health officials,” the press release reads.
On May 16, the university closed its asymptomatic COVID-19 testing site for the summer and eliminated all required asymptomatic testing for Vanderbilt community members, including the unvaccinated. It cited a decreased campus population during the summer and steady low positivity rates on campus as reasoning for these decisions. On March 9, the university lifted all mask mandates on campus after Davidson County was downgraded to a “medium” spread community.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends indoor masking in “high” spread communities. COVID-19 community levels are calculated by the CDC using the number of total COVID-19 cases and COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 population in the past week, as well as the average percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied in the past week.
From June 9-16, Davidson County reported 10.5 COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 population and 239 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population, per the CDC. Patients with COVID-19 occupied 2.2% of staffed inpatient beds in Davidson County during this time. This data, along with community spread levels, are updated by the CDC each Thursday.
Some students expressed frustration at the reinstatement of the indoor mask mandate. Junior Aryana Valedon said she believes the policy won’t be in place for long.
“I’m not really worried, but it does seem unnecessary,” Valedon said. “I also feel like it’s going to be very difficult to reinstate a mask mandate after taking it away.”
Sophomore Tenley Noonan said the development of vaccines and other safety measures in the past year make the mask mandate seem unreasonable. Like Noonan, junior Annie Blount expressed simultaneous concern for the community and agitation over the new policy.
“It’s definitely frustrating for students to go back to what was asked of us in the fall, especially when we have added additional preventative measures such as boosters that weren’t widely available in the fall,” Noonan said. “That being said, I understand safety concerns; it’s just very frustrating when we are given more hope on these things being lifted and then go back.”
Lauren Solecki, also a sophomore, said she is frustrated with the university’s frequent changes in COVID-19 policies. Since June 2021, there have been at least 13 updates to the university’s COVID-19 protocols and procedures.
“My question is: How long are we going to have to sporadically switch between mask mandates?” Solecki said. “COVID-19 is not going to just disappear anytime soon.”
Senior Tucker Apgar is living on campus as a residential advisor (RA) and is working in a Vanderbilt lab this summer. He stated that the change in policy was “less alarming” compared to previous shifts in COVID-19 protocols due to fewer students being on campus currently. Apgar also expressed similar concerns as Solecki and Valedon regarding the mandate’s implementation.
“I, along with everyone else, am definitely fatigued after reverting back and forth with the masking. I do also have concerns with enforcement given that there are fewer students around campus,” Apgar said. “However, I also realize Vandy is doing their due diligence with CDC compliance and since I work on campus, it’s something where I will do what I must to stay in compliance with university guidelines.”