SUNY Oswego lifts mask mandate effective March 4

SUNY Oswego has ended their mask mandate on March 4 for students and faculty that have completed a full COVID-19 vaccination and booster shot series, in an email sent by Officer in Charge Mary C. Toale.

In the email, addressed to “Members of the SUNY Oswego Campus Community,” Toale cited guidance from the CDC and Oswego County Health Department, coupled with a decline in COVID-19 cases in the region and on campus for the decision.

SUNY Oswego joins SUNY Cortland, University at Buffalo and SUNY Fredonia in lifting mask mandates after numerous states and cities announced the end of their mask and vaccine mandates. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the removal of mask mandates in Kindergarten through 12th grade schools on March 2, and New York City Mayor Eric Adams ended mandatory masks in public schools and mandatory vaccination requirements in restaurants and other venues.  

While students and faculty that have received the vaccine and booster shot may go maskless in classrooms and general buildings, certain facilities will still require masks for all. Masks will be required in “healthcare settings” such as Mary Walker Health Center and COVID-19 testing centers, public transportation such as the campus Centro buses, indoor gatherings of 5,000 or more individuals and “in an instructional setting when required by the instructor.” Individuals must follow older quarantining restrictions if they have COVID-19 symptoms such as wearing a mask, getting tested and quarantining until they receive their results.

Toale’s email explained that faculty can require masks within their classrooms regardless of vaccination status, and the “current penalties for violations of the mask mandate will apply to violations of classroom mask mandates and other areas where masks are required.” Prior to the change in mandates, failure to comply with SUNY Oswego mask mandates could result in a student being referred to the Dean of Student’s office for a student conduct violation.

Some SUNY Oswego campus buildings had mask mandate signage on entrances, such as a sign on Tyler Hall’s north entrance, on March 5. | Photo from John Custodio

Biological sciences professor Daniel Baldassarre is requiring students attending his classes to continue to wear masks. Baldassarre alerted his students via email to the change in mask policy one hour before Toale’s email, stating that masks would continue to be worn while he is instructing.

“As much as I would LOVE to teach without a mask on, I must ask you all to continue wearing masks in class,” Baldassarre said in his email. “Remember, I have an unvaccinated little boy at home, and I still need to be very careful. I would be grateful for your cooperation.”

Via Zoom, Baldassarre explained his decision, citing students acting as a method for transmission of COVID-19 and his reluctance to risk his one-year-old son’s health.

“99% of the people on campus are going to be able to do this safely, but we all know, we’ve learned, that it’s not just about us,” Baldassarre said. “We are all vectors to the outside community so even though the campus community is all highly vaccinated, there are individual circumstances, people are more vulnerable than others or people who are older, or crucially some people that can’t get vaccinated.”

Penfield Library’s main south entrance had its mandate signage removed following the email from Toale. | Photo from John Custodio

Some students agree that professors being able to create their own classroom mandates was a smart decision by SUNY Oswego. Sophomore Shayna Connally is excited for the change but respects people that will continue to wear their masks.

“I think it’s nice for professors to still be able to say, ‘I think I’m comfortable still wearing them,’ to have that choice to say I’m still not comfortable yet,” Connally said.

Connally said her mother, an elementary school teacher, is especially excited for New York’s mandate changes as it will make her life significantly easier. In SUNY Oswego, some fitness center employees also agree that the change will lessen the load of their jobs.

Director of Campus Recreation and Fitness Brian Wallace said the fitness centers have had issues with mask enforcement, with people not properly wearing masks and enforcement taking up a large portion of employees’ time. Prior to the mandate being lifted, Wallace said the removal of masks would ease his employees’ jobs. Student employee Johnny Carrol agreed, saying the mask mandates caused a lot of arguments and without them, people will be able to enjoy the fitness centers again with one less thing to worry about.

“There’s definitely some mask fatigue and COVID fatigue and that’s just life right now, and I’d be interested to see if the mask mandate is lifted how it would change the dynamics of how we operate,” Wallace said, prior to Toale’s email. “I know our student staff would probably appreciate it because it’s really just one less thing they’re going to have to monitor and it makes their jobs I think a little bit easier.”

While some people think the change in mandates is a step in the right direction, Toale’s email said the decision can change at any time depending on case numbers and conditions, stating “if infection numbers increase, we may reinstate the mask mandate on campus.”