SUNY Oswego’s new ‘mask optional’ policy is changing how the fitness centers operate on campus

OSWEGO, N.Y. — On Feb. 27, New York state Gov. Kathy Hochul announced she would lift the indoor mask mandate for children in K-12 schools effective March 2. On March 4, the SUNY Oswego president’s office informed its student, faculty and staff members via email that the campus will be “mask optional” for those fully vaccinated and boosted.

According to the president’s office, this decision was made following guidance from the CDC, Oswego County Health Departments and a declining number of COVID-19 cases on campus and in the region.

“If you are fully vaccinated and have received your booster shot, you are no longer required to wear a mask, except if/when in instructional and office settings when required, riding on public transportation, in an indoor gathering of 5,000 or more individuals, you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, or you are in quarantine or isolation,” the president’s office said in its email.

The former mask mandate on campus affected most of campus life, one area, in particular, being the SUNY Oswego fitness centers.

Since the beginning of the spring semester, student manager Olivia Smith said staff at the fitness centers “continued to encourage fitness center users to wipe down their equipment after each use.”

“The college hadn’t imposed any particular cleaning guidelines when we re-opened back in the fall last semester,” she said. “Our staff continued to do our standard cleaning of equipment. In addition, we increased the hand sanitizing stations, as well as purchased several portable air purifiers.”

Undergraduate student Joseph Badre also said “the fitness centers have been nicely maintained” since returning to Oswego this semester.

“They have a great variety of machines,” he said.

Yet Badre complained that the fitness centers “are often overcrowded with people” and there “isn’t a lot of space” to work out in. Thanks to its recent announcement to make all memberships for students free on Feb. 7, more students have been attracted to the fitness centers than usual.

Graduate Assistant Caroline Pace said the fitness centers have “seen an increased influx of students coming into the gym” and for group exercise classes.

“The personal training schedule has also seen a significant increase,” she said. “Thankfully, we have a handful of newly onboarded personal trainers who were interns last semester.”

Concerning the previously required usage of masks in the fitness centers, Pace said she believes mask mandates have played an important role in keeping communities safe throughout the pandemic.

“We’ve seen that masks work well at preventing droplet spread, specifically N95 masks,” she said. “That being said, it is great to see smiling faces again. Having this optional for students who are fully vaccinated and boosted helps us to see the light at the end of the tunnel!”

Despite this, SUNY Oswego’s campus has not made this optional mask policy permanent yet. The president’s office mentioned that this decision is subject to change depending on infection numbers.

According to the March 4 email, if infection numbers increase, the president’s office said the mask mandate on campus may be reinstated. In the meantime, the president’s office said that all unvaccinated individuals, including those who have received medical or religious exemptions, are expected to continue to test weekly. Those who are vaccinated but not yet boosted must test monthly.

Speaking of how campus life will operate moving forward, Pace said she is “curious to see if this affects the infection rate.”

“The fitness centers do not foresee many operational changes due to the optional masks, but we do require students to be boosted,” she said. “So, we are working with the school, health department, and Campus Technology Services to see how we can ensure that we are upholding this policy in order to maintain the safest space possible for those who wish to use our facilities unmasked.”

Regardless, even if it is temporary, this policy change will bring relief to those who find masking up in the fitness centers to be inconvenient.

“Sometimes it can be very annoying when the mask gets wet from sweat or you are breathing heavily,” Badre said. “Sometimes it can make you feel extra tired.”

Whatever the school decides to do, Smith said that the fitness centers “will continue to honor the current policies in place.”