SUNY Oswego to move forward with ‘mask optional’ policy despite plans of university health officials

Mary Walker Health Center is the hub for health related issues on campus. (Photo by: Spencer Bates)

Now “mask optional,” the future in regards to COVID-19 and the mask mandate at SUNY Oswego remains unclear as students travel away from campus during the upcoming spring break.

Current trends show a promising decrease in the number of COVID-19 infection rates across the country and the state. However, the March 4 announcement that SUNY Oswego is now “mask optional” for students who have completed a full vaccination series and received their booster shot backtracks on what university health officials claimed the plan was heading into the break in the semester.

According to Director of Student Health Services Angie Brown, the plan as of a few days ago was that, “if the numbers are high or if we have another spike or we’re seeing the county is still extremely high, they may consider keeping that mask mandate through the semester or reassess again in April and then make the decisions based on that.”

Brown also said that it’s difficult to try and predict what COVID-19 rates will look like after the break as it is something that has the opportunity to influence a possible spike in cases is where students travel.

“If they’re traveling to areas that are warmer, which means a lot of people will be outdoors, it would be less risk of transition than places where you’re going to be indoors, crowded places and things like that. So I’m unsure what to expect, I know that we’re going to be cautious afterwards just to make sure.”

A concerns for health officials at SUNY Oswego is the possibility of a spike in cases among students as they return from their spring break. However, it is all contingent on what students do during their break.

“We have seen across the country and across the state that numbers are decreasing, some areas the numbers are still high so it kind of depends on where students travel and what kind of activities they partake in,” Brown said.

Despite the chance of increased COVID-19 rates among the SUNY Oswego community, Brown says that it will be business as usual when dealing with those who test positive. This means that students who test positive will be moved to Oneida Hall, as it is the designated isolation hall, and will remain there for at least five days or until symptoms die down and their fever is under control. Students are then permitted to return to their respective residence halls but must remain wearing a mask for the remainder of the 10-day period.

Brown remains unsure as to what the plan will be moving forward in regard to masks on campus. She said that Oswego County has one of the highest rates of infection for COVID-19 in the entire state and because of that, it makes the decision on whether or not to keep the mandate that much more difficult.

“Oswego County is at high risk still, high rate of transmission. The county has a very low vaccination rate and the plan right now is to keep the mask mandate until two weeks post spring break and see where we’re at,” Brown said.

Melinda Brancato, a SUNY Oswego student and lifelong resident of Oswego, said how important masks were in the beginning of the pandemic and still to this day. However, as a student who has completed her vaccination series as well as received her booster shot, she sympathizes with the students who are still unsure with what the future may hold.

“I understand why the school kept the mask mandate, being from around the area I remember, even way back in 2020 when the numbers were increasing, locals were very nervous about the college students coming back,” Brancato said. “I do agree that the mask mandate should’ve been kept in place, although now that we see numbers decreasing … I can understand why students are starting to get anxious about where the mask mandate is headed.”

March 12 officially kicks off SUNY Oswego’s spring break and with that comes a mass migration and scattering of students away from the university. With Gov. Kathy Hochul’s announcement that the mask mandate will end in K-12 schools on March 2, it is still vague as to what that may look like or how it may affect life on campus.

Spring break will be the ultimate test to determine whether or not the mask optional status of SUNY Oswego will remain in place. If numbers skyrocket following students’ return to campus, the concept of a mask mandate will be up for debate once again between university health officials.