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Most students still supported mask mandate before restrictions lifted

Photo “Surgical Face Mask” by NurseTogether, licensed under CC 4.0.

By Omri Bergner-Phillips

First-years, sophomores lead in support for COVID-19 restrictions on campus

After more than a year and a half of required masking on campus — with a fleeting break during Summer 2021 — an email from Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey announced the end of Brown’s mask mandate on March 10. Citing high vaccination rates and declining COVID-19 case numbers, undergraduates in compliance with Brown’s vaccination policy no longer had to wear a mask as of March 14 in most University spaces.

The policy change, which also made asymptomatic testing for undergraduates optional, came in the wake of similar decisions by Harvard and Princeton, among a number of other schools.

Before Brown lifted its mask mandate, the Brown Opinion Project’s March 2022 poll asked students about a handful of COVID-19 policies, including mask mandates inside classrooms, mask mandates in shared non-classroom spaces and COVID-19 testing requirements. The poll found that a sizable majority of students favored maintaining required masking in classrooms (64.22%), while just under half supported maintaining the testing requirement (48.4%).

These levels of support mark a decline since October 2021, when 73.48% of students favored a continued in-class mask mandate and 75.25 percent supported mandatory COVID-19 testing.

One anonymous junior who took BOP’s March 2022 poll said that they favored eliminating the mask mandate prior to Carey’s email.

“​​It seems like [Brown] errs on the safe side as compared to a lot of state and nationwide policies,” the junior said. “I'd like to see the mask mandate lifted at some point this semester if cases continue to drop.”

Over one-third of students polled in March (35.63%) said that the University should require masks in shared spaces such as Faunce House, libraries and dining halls, while roughly one-fifth (20.05%) stated that they supported none of the listed restrictions.

First-years, who have never been on campus without a mask mandate in place, led the campus in their support for COVID-19 restrictions. 72.06% indicated they favored required masking in class, 55.15% supported mandatory testing and just 13.97 percent opposed all of the COVID-19 restrictions listed.

The shift from PCR testing last fall to self-reported rapid antigen testing contributed to one anonymous first-year to indicate support for the testing requirement on the poll.

“I think [testing] is good for everyone,” the first-year said. “The more relaxed way of doing [rapid tests] is easier for me.”

Sophomores — who had previously only experienced a few weeks on campus without a mask mandate — favored maintaining COVID-19 restrictions by the second-highest margin, with 65.28% supporting masks in classrooms and 48.7% indicating approval of the mandatory testing protocol previously in place.

“I feel like the [Brown] administration was able to appeal to everyone with their guidelines this semester,” said an anonymous sophomore who participated in the poll. “The students who want to be extra cautious when it comes to COVID get to be extra cautious, and those who don’t feel the need to take as many precautions don’t have to.”

Juniors supported restrictions at the lowest rates, with just 57.04% in favor of a continued in-class mask mandate and 42.25% in support of required testing. Just over 6 in 10 members of the class of 2022 (62.50%) supported in-class masking, while less than half (47.50%) wanted to keep mandatory COVID-19 testing.

The two classes also indicated disapproval of any of the listed COVID-19 restrictions at the highest rates, with 26.06% of juniors and 22.5% of seniors opposed. Only 17.62% of sophomores and 13.97% of first-years indicated that they were against maintaining any of the listed restrictions.

Still, another member of the class of 2023 who took the poll said they favored a more cautious approach to managing COVID-19 on campus. “It’s better to be safe than sorry,” they said. “I would rather have a safe campus with more guidelines than necessary that keeps people safer and keeps cases down rather than fewer guidelines and more cases in the long run.”

Note: All quoted poll-takers remain anonymous to maintain the integrity of Brown Opinion Project surveys. Brown Opinion Project conducted its March 2022 poll from March 2-4, collecting 591 total responses from Brown undergraduate students with a margin of error of 4.09% with 95% confidence.


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