Students largely welcome Penn’s efforts to ease mask requirements for fully vaccinated individuals, although many remain concerned about the enforcement of new regulations and the impact they will have on the West Philadelphia community.
On May 21, Penn lifted its outdoor mask mandate for individuals who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 after similar restrictions were lifted by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. As of May 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention no longer recommends that vaccinated individuals wear masks. In an email sent to faculty, staff, and postdoctoral students on June 1, Penn administrators announced that the University will continue requiring masks indoors, but plans to eventually lift this requirement.
Although the University has yet to make an official announcement, the COVID-19 Student Frequently Asked Questions page currently states that vaccinated individuals only need to wear masks indoors if they are quarantining, with children under the age of 12, in a health care setting, or using public transit.
The School of Arts and Sciences no longer requires social distancing but will continue requiring masks to be worn indoors, SAS Deans announced in an email sent on June 4. The School of Engineering and Applied Science sent an email to the Engineering community on June 11 announcing that fully vaccinated individuals are no longer required to wear masks indoors.
Rising College junior Indya Gettings said that she believes that changing the mask mandate is a positive step, but is concerned about how the new regulations surrounding mask use will be safely implemented.
“I do think that sometimes it’s good to have a sense of normalcy, so I think that that’s a positive aspect of it,” Gettings said. “My biggest question would be, especially if it’s outdoors, how [is Penn] going to ensure that [anyone who] isn’t wearing a mask is vaccinated?”
Gettings added that Penn should first determine the impact of in-person instruction on the COVID-19 infection rate before dropping the indoor mask mandate for vaccinated individuals in the fall.
Rising Wharton junior Sunni Liu agreed with Gettings, adding that Penn’s decision to lift the outdoor mask mandate for vaccinated people is a “sign of hope.” However, as an international student who spent the past semester at home in Canada — which has had slower vaccine rollout than the United States — Liu said that she would be uncomfortable not wearing a mask indoors in the fall.
“I think a lot of people have different comfort levels and trying to cater to the whole campus is hard, so Penn’s doing the best [it] can,” Liu said.
The CDC’s decision to lift its outdoor and indoor mask recommendation for vaccinated people could be an incentive for people to get the vaccine, rising College and Wharton junior Connor Pierce said. He added that if all students are vaccinated before the upcoming fall semester, per Penn’s requirement, he would be comfortable with the University lifting its indoor mask mandate.
“My big thing is that if we believe that vaccines work, we should act like they work,” Pierce said. “So if everyone is vaccinated, I don’t think there is any reason at all to have a mask mandate indoors. I think we should take advantage of the benefits the vaccine provides us.”
Rising College sophomore Chapin Lenthall-Cleary echoed Pierce's sentiments, adding that the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines support the University’s decisions to ease restrictions for vaccinated members of the Penn community.
Lenthall-Cleary added that he believes Penn should lift the indoor mask requirement for vaccinated people, noting that enforcing mask-wearing will be as difficult as enforcing other Campus Compact regulations.
Rising Engineering junior Akshitha Vijay said Penn’s decision to lift its mask mandate for vaccinated people is a healthy transition towards post-pandemic life. She added that, despite the changing regulations, whether vaccinated people wear masks will continue to be an “individual choice.”
Vijay added that she agrees with Penn’s decision to keep its indoor mask mandate for all community members in order to protect the West Philadelphia community.
“Penn is such a unique place in that we do get to be a part of a surrounding community that isn’t affiliated with the university, necessarily,” Vijay said. “There are members [of] those communities who maybe aren’t vaccinated for whatever reason, and they can be disproportionately affected as well. So, it’s still really important to be safe, not only for yourself but for all the people around you.”