Rider lifts indoor mask mandate regardless of vaccination status

By Shaun Chornobroff

Classrooms and public indoor spaces like Alumni Gym and the Student Recreation Center littered with students and faculty wearing masks may be a sight of the past at Rider.

With New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy’s recent announcement lifting mask requirements in K-12 schools, along with updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and New Jersey Department of Health, Rider’s COVID-19 implementation team announced it was repealing its indoor mask mandate in an email to the university community on March 1.

The change in protocol goes into effect on March 5 and lifts the requirement for anybody to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.

“This is encouraging news as we continue to live with the virus. It also speaks to your vigilance in abiding by our COVID-19 protocols,” the email from the implementation team said.

The decision comes not long after the CDC changed how it measures COVID-19 activity in each county. The updated CDC measures list Mercer County’s COVID-19 community level as low. Additionally, in its most recent update, Rider’s COVID-19 dashboard recorded only four positive COVID-19 cases from Feb. 19-25, the lowest total of the semester.

“Across the nation, we’re seeing a drop in COVID cases overall and that’s a good thing. I think it’s also indicative of just that, for the most part, people have been following our protocols to help keep the number of cases down across the entire community,” said Debbie Stasolla, Rider’s vice president for strategic initiatives and planning and secretary to the board, as well as a leader of the implementation team.

Students and employees will still be required to mask six to 10 days after quarantine or isolation, 10 days after exposure if you are a close contact who is not required to quarantine and at the student health center, the email stated.

The COVID-19 dashboard, which is updated every Friday has reported more than 703 tests administered in the spring semester, as of Feb. 25. However, the implementation team said in the email it will be ending surveillance testing for unvaccinated students and employees on March 30.

“I was really surprised that it was stopping,” said Christopher Maiorana, a junior business analytics major, who was one of the students required to take part in weekly surveillance testing. “It does take a lot of time — I don’t mind doing it weekly if that was really the way they felt safe, but now that I don’t have to do it, it’s less time taken away for me.”

“We’re finding that it is not an effective preventive tool. That’s given our own experience, it’s in line with updated guidance because we know that even those of us who have been vaccinated and boosted can still contract COVID and we can also transmit COVID,” Stasolla said. “We’re learning more information and we’re changing our protocols in line with … what we’re learning more and more about the nature of this virus.”

The implementation team also announced that it will require all students for the 2022-23 school year to be fully vaccinated unless they have a religious or medical exemption. Stasolla said students with an exemption this school year will have to reapply for one for the upcoming school year. However, the school will not be requiring a booster, with Stasolla and the team deciding to allow that to be a student decision.

“What we’re trying to do is this, leave it in the hands of individuals to make the decision as to whether they should get boosted or not. … We will continue to encourage members of our community, students, faculty and staff to get boosted, but we have decided not to require the booster,” Stasolla said.

Despite this major step toward normalcy at Rider, the email warned “should circumstances change, we may return to enforcement of our indoor masking and or testing requirements.”

“I hope that members of our community, most members of our community, are going to feel pretty confident about lifting some of our protocols,” Stasolla said. “But should circumstances change, we want people to know we may have to reconsider as we continue monitoring COVID-19.”

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