Amid Governor Youngkin’s news laws regardings masks and vaccinations in schools, Mason announces future COVID-19 plans
BY MADISON SCHOFIELD, STAFF WRITER
In an email to the Mason community sent on Jan. 31, President Gregory Washington announced changes to GMU’s COVID -19 protocol, including an end to the vaccination requirement and a potential end date for the mask requirement.
“We will now strongly encourage vaccination protocols for all Mason students, faculty, and staff, though we no longer require them,” Washington wrote.
Washington announced Mar. 4 as the university’s goal for lifting the mask mandate. “The weekend spring break starts will mark the two-year anniversary since COVID-19 first disrupted our campuses, and so early March will be a fitting time to consider changing course.”
Washington stated that if positivity rates among COVID tests remain below four percent, the mask mandate can be lifted. He also emphasized that while it may no longer be required, wearing masks when indoors is still recommended per CDC guidelines.
Washington cited the university’s high vaccination rate, low positivity rate, and the decline of the omicron variant for these protocol changes.
According to the Campus COVID-19 Data, only 2.4 percent of students and employees tested positive between Jan. 22 through Jan. 28. The prior week Jan. 17 through Jan. 21, saw a 3.4 percent positive test rate for students and a 1.9 percent positive rate for employees.
According to Washington, 93 percent of the campus community is fully vaccinated.
Washington also cited recent opinions from Attorney General Jason Miyares and executive orders from Governor Glenn Youngkin as reasons for these changes.
In a recent legal opinion, Miyares said, “Although the General Assembly specifically authorized public institutions of higher education to assist the Department of Health and local health departments in the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine, the legislation did not grant such institutions power to impose vaccine requirements.”
Miyares added that since state lawmakers have not amended Virginia law to include the COVID-19 vaccine in the list of immunizations required, public higher education institutions may not require it as a condition of enrollment or attendance.
On Jan. 15, Youngkin signed an executive directive lifting the mask mandate on state employees, including employees of public universities.
According to Mason’s COVID-19 Safety Plan, testing will remain a requirement for those who live on campus, participate in athletic programs, or are unvaccinated. Mason will also continue to use the Mason Covid Health Check, require isolation and quarantine for positive cases, and adjust protocol per federal, state, and regional public health guidance.
“Mason is seeing light at the end of this very long tunnel. As we have seen throughout the pandemic, Mason continues to maintain some of the lowest rates of transmission of any university in the nation, making it one of the safest places anywhere to weather the pandemic,” Washington wrote. “I strongly encourage everyone to continue the four steps that have gotten us this far: keep masking, get vaccinated and boosted, stay home when sick, and keep testing when you receive an email reminder.”