Updated as of March 3, 2022 at 6:27 p.m. to include additional video.

Elon University will no longer require masks indoors starting March 14. The announcement comes from a university email from Healthy Elon chair Jeff Stein on Monday, Feb. 28. 

The new mask optional policy will begin during Spring Break. The university strongly encourages students, faculty and staff who are unvaccinated or immunocompromised to continue wearing masks indoors – but will not require it. 

However unvaccinated individuals are still required to test weekly.

“Elon endorses the rights of everyone to make their own personal choices about wearing masks,” Stein wrote in the email.

University spokesman Owen Covington said the university has tried to “provide a two-week window on any policy change” to give the community time to react and prepare. He said the start of spring break is a “good transition point” for this policy. 

Sophomore Krista Paciello said she finds the mandate lift exciting and does not see the significance of waiting two weeks to change the policy. She said the change will be weird because she has worn a mask since high school.

“I feel like a lot of people are more lenient now. I don't think two weeks from now it'd be any different than it would be right now,” Paciello said. 

Click below for more student reactions:

Senior Luna Dunham plans to keep wearing a mask to class to keep others and themself safe.

“I am a little bit on the fence. I obviously love to see us getting over the hump of this pandemic, but also I have trust issues with the general population and public,” Dunham said. “I think — hopefully, fingers crossed — everything will be okay.”

Masks will still be required for Student Health Services, Faculty-Staff Wellness Clinic, the asymptomatic testing center in McCoy Commons and Health Sciences medical outreach programs, as well as for anyone experiencing COVID-like symptoms and five days after completion of a five-day isolation period after a positive test.

While this new change may be in the favor of some at the university, not everyone is for the change. Psychology professor Katie King said she is against Elon University lifting the indoor mask requirement and would like the masks to stay, even though Alamance and Guilford counties have lifted the mask mandate. 

“I'm just not at all comfortable with, that we need to learn to live with the virus,” King said. “That was even in the memo that Jeff Stein sent out today. That to me is wrongheaded.”

Professor of philosophy Ann Cahill said she is not surprised by the decision, but she is disappointed. 

“As a university, Elon is making a mistake in policy that lots of institutions are making, and lots of communities are making on different levels, but I still think it's a mistake,” Cahill said. “Even though it feels like it's part of a certain form of social momentum, and I don't think Elon University is going to feel alone in making this decision, nevertheless, I think it's a mistake.”

The decision to make masking indoors optional has far more consequences than benefits, Cahill said, especially for those who are high risk on campus. 

“It is simply not a good ethical balance,” Cahill said. “To reduce that choice to an individual choice, I think is a mistake. I think it's a failure of community responsibility.”

New guidelines

The Center for Disease Control announced on Friday, Feb. 25 a loosened mask guidance, focusing more on community hospitalizations rather than cases. Under the new guidance, the majority of Americans will no longer be advised to wear masks in indoor public settings. The CDC’s announcement also aligns with schools across Alamance and Guilford counties ending their mask mandates for students and staff.

The university will offer free N-95 or KN-95 masks at the front desk of the Moseley Center for those who would like to continue wearing one

Hospitalizations in Alamance County have declined 35% and 39% throughout North Carolina, over the past 14 days. 

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper encouraged cities and schools to lift requirements by Monday, March 7.  

Brigham Young University, Carleton College and Marist College are among the most recent colleagues and universities to lift their mandates. The University of Richmond and Villanova University, two of Elon's peer institutions, lifted theirs with faculty discretion. 

After Spring Break

Freshman Lily Johnson said she plans to wear a mask for a “week or two” after returning to campus following spring break.

“People are traveling and coming back from populated areas where maybe the numbers are kind of high. So I think for the first couple weeks, I might, but after that I feel like I might feel comfortable taking it off,” Johnson said. 

Johnson said she wouldn’t look at any of her peers differently based on their decision to continue wearing a mask or not. Paciello said she was worried about being judged for choosing not to wear one once the mandate is lifted.

“I was worried that if I didn't wear a mask, people are going to think that I don’t care about other people, so that’s also something I have to think about,” Paciello said.

Lifting the mandate during spring break is something Paciello said “shocked her.”

“I feel like a lot of people are gonna go away, and they're gonna come back with whatever diseases they're gonna come back with,” Paciello said. “I feel like it would have been better to wait until at least two weeks after spring break, just so that if they got COVID or whatever, they could have waited it out.” 

King said that when students return to class after spring break, she will still require students to wear masks in her classes, and if they choose not to, she will ask them to join online. 

“We say we do things at Elon, that we want an inclusive campus, we value the well being of everyone,” King said. “This to me is not valuing the well being of faculty and staff and students who are at higher risk than others.”

Additionally, once the mandate is changed, Cahill said she will not be attending large-scale gatherings on campus.

“That's a small loss, compared to the folks who are going to be hospitalized and are hospitalized right now, but it is a loss,” Cahill said. “This policy change … that's what it's going to mean for me.”

While she is not teaching on-campus this semester, Cahill said in her role as director of the national and international fellowships office, she will be asking students to mask up indoors, even though she does not have “the support of the university behind” her. 

“Endemic really means how many hospitalizations are we willing to tolerate so that we can make an individual choice about whether or not to put a mask on,” Cahill said. “I find that chilling. I find that chilling to say we're willing to fill these many hospital beds — we know we can prevent them — we know we could prevent those infections, but we're not willing to do it. I find that chilling and In many ways appalling.”