Stony Brook University (SBU) is set to lift its indoor mask mandate on Wednesday, March 2, following new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and New York state guidelines announced last week.
The University cited new information provided by the CDC and the New York State Health Department as reasons to drop the mandate, as stated in an email sent to the student body on Feb. 28.
Masks will no longer be required for students, faculty, staff or visitors on West Campus. Individuals also cannot ask others to put a mask on, and must respect those that choose not to wear a mask.
Stony Brook Medicine employees and any individuals at Stony Brook Hospital are still required to wear masks regardless of vaccination status. Individuals must still wear masks at the Student Health Center, at on-campus surveillance testing sites such as the Alan S. deVries Center and on SBU shuttles and buses.
Speculation began on Friday, Feb. 25, after CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced that the CDC would be updating their methodology on assessing COVID-19.
“We must focus on metrics beyond just cases in the community and direct our efforts toward protecting people at high risk for severe illness,” Walensky said, citing an increased population of both vaccinated and previously infected people who have greater immunity after the highly contagious omicron variant spread this past winter.
The updated guidelines will change the way the severity of the virus in a given county is calculated, now factoring in hospitalization rates and hospital bed capacity, along with new cases. With these new metrics, 70% of the United States is now within ‘low’ or ‘medium’ community spread, meaning these areas no longer have mask recommendations.
This is in stark contrast to the old method of tracking severity solely by case numbers, which put 99% of the country under a mask recommendation.
While most states have dropped mask mandates prior to the CDC’s announcement, many took this as a sign of a new phase in the pandemic.
“My friends, the day has come,” Hochul said on Feb. 25 during her announcement ending mandatory masking requirements for schools in light of the CDC’s changes, following a 95% drop in new cases since the height of the pandemic in early January. “That is why I feel very confident that this is the time to lift the mask requirements.” New hospitalizations also dropped nearly 80% during the same time period.
This shift for the state does not prohibit individual counties and towns from implementing mask mandates.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams is upholding the governor’s optimism, planning to remove indoor mask requirements for public schools and vaccine mandates for indoor spaces such as gyms and movie theaters. The NYC public school system is the largest in the nation, with over 1 million students affected by the loosened restrictions.
The State University of New York (SUNY) school system has not commented on any updates regarding mask mandates, and continues to state that masks must be worn in all indoor settings.
Stony Brook is located in Suffolk County, a low level community under the CDC’s new guidelines, and while the mask mandate is now lifted, the University still expects students to wear a mask if they begin to have COVID-like symptoms or receive a positive test on campus.
The University has not mentioned whether or not quarantine or isolation guidelines will be updated as well. Currently, any individual who receives a positive COVID-19 test and lives within a 50-mile radius from campus is required to isolate at home for five days.
The Statesman has reached out to the SUNY system for further information, as well as to Stony Brook University for additional comments.
This is a developing story. Additional information will be provided.