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04-07-21-spring-campus-studying-cherry-blossom-masks-social-distancing-kylie-cooper

The Aug. 5 announcement sent to the Penn community wrote that, in accordance with guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control, the University would once again require individuals to wear masks in shared and public indoor spaces.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

After Penn recently reinstated its indoor mask requirement, students had mixed reactions. Some agreed with the decision while others felt it was unnecessary.

The Aug. 5 announcement sent to the Penn community wrote that, in accordance with guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control, the University would once again require individuals to wear masks in shared and public indoor spaces. This change comes after Penn largely eased masking requirements for vaccinated individuals on June 11.

The policy update has garnered mixed reactions from members of the Penn community. Some students welcomed the reinstatement of the mask mandate, saying that it is important to protect students, faculty, and staff and the surrounding Philadelphia area from the rapidly-spreading Delta variant.

Jack Starobin, a rising College sophomore and a former reporter for The Daily Pennsylvanian, agrees with the University's decision, citing the risk of exposure and the importance of protecting both the Penn community and the larger West Philadelphia community.

“There’s the public health concern that if people actually get sick, this variant spreads very quickly and can still cause serious illness in perfectly healthy people," Starobin said. "I think the mandate makes sense — not just for me at Penn concerned about my health and my friends’ health — but as a person who will be living for the school year in West Philadelphia which is a community that is not beholden to all of the resources and assistance that Penn has to offer its very specific group of students.”

Rising College junior Mayur Popuri also agreed with the mandate and spoke on the responsibility of vaccinated people to stop the spread.

“I think that people are treating the issue as if it’s already gone. I don’t think that the vaccine rate, first of all, is enough to secure the community. We need to still stop the spread amongst people who are vaccinated because there was that one study in Wisconsin and Singapore that showed similar viral loads amongst people who are vaccinated versus not,” Popuri said, referencing studies that show that vaccinated individuals infected with the Delta variant are likely contagious.

Not all students agreed with the new requirement. In a poll conducted on the Instagram Story of the page UPenn Memes — an account that is not officially affiliated with the University — which gained over 2,000 votes, approximately 60% of individuals responded that the new mandate was “good and necessary” while the other 40% considered the policy “bad and pointless.” 

According to the Aug. 5 email, most members of the Penn community have already met the requirement with 80% of students and 84% of faculty and staff already having received a full series of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Rising College sophomore Charlie Schumer shared his concerns with the mask policy, saying he viewed it as unnecessary considering the University is already requiring students, faculty, and staff to be fully vaccinated to return to campus. Schumer mentioned his concerns about the potential implications that this update could have in terms of future policy changes regarding the pandemic.

“I think people are really kidding themselves if they think that this mask mandate is all that’s going to happen,” Schumer said. “If people just accept it, then Penn is just going to keep on putting in more and more policies [while] not really listening to what is reasonable or what students want or what is best for students.”

Incoming first-year Omar Ameen, who had taken a gap year during the 2020-2021 year, also expressed his disagreement with the mandate. He cited data on the high effectiveness of the vaccine against the Delta variant and the low illness rates for vaccinated individuals.

“It just seems kind of redundant to me. It’s sort of like the TSA in the sense that it's not really effective, but it’s just to put on a show of security, you know what I mean? I saw someone use the term 'virtue signaling' — it feels like that," Ameen said.

In the Aug. 5 email, the administrators wrote that, in addition to mask wearing, getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is the "safest and most effective defense against COVID-19 and its variants."

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