Loyola announced it will no longer be requiring students to wear masks in classrooms and labs in a May 27 email to students and community members, despite a recent nationwide uptick in COVID-19 cases. Faculty members will still have the option to require students to wear masks in their classrooms and the university has said it will enforce these classroom policies.
Mask requirements on-campus transportation have also been lifted, according to the email. Masks will continue to be required in healthcare settings including the Wellness Center and on-campus testing sites.
The newest decision follows previous moves to loosen the university’s mask policy, which was updated in March to no longer require masks in most communal areas on campus, The Phoenix reported.
The announcement comes as COVID-19 cases have been rising nationwide in the past few weeks due to the emergence of another form of the Omicron subvariant, The Associated Press (AP) reported. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) moved Chicago and surrounding areas to “high” COVID-19 community levels on May 26.
Loyola’s policies outlasted those put in place by state and local governments throughout the country. Illinois let its indoor mask mandate expire in February, The Phoenix reported, along with other remaining cities and states who had maintained their mandates.
Loyola was one of the last Chicago area universities to maintain their requirements, as DePaul University and Northwestern University both previously scaled back their protocols in April to only require masks in university health and testing facilities.
University officials urged students to respect the decisions of individuals who continue to wear masks despite mandates being lifted.
“As always, your health, safety, and well-being remain our top priority in our decision-making, and we will continue to monitor conditions and make any necessary adjustments,” Margaret Callahan, provost and chief academic officer, and Mark Kelly, senior vice president of administrative services, wrote in the email. “Any COVID-19 protocols are subject to change and will be communicated to the community in as timely a fashion as possible.”
Cases in Illinois are at their highest point since the winter’s Omicron wave, sitting at a weekly average of 5,125 daily cases, according to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). However, deaths have not risen in accordance with the uptick in cases. The state is only averaging nine deaths from the disease weekly and hospitalizations remain lower than in previous spikes. This is due in part to the proliferation of vaccines, along with new antiviral treatments for the virus.
In Illinois, 73% of residents are fully vaccinated, according to IDPH data. These numbers are slightly lower in Chicago where only 67.5% of the population is fully vaccinated.
Loyola’s test-positivity rate has also increased recently, reaching 5.75% as of May 27. These numbers could be slightly inflated though, as less tests are being carried out in on-campus facilities as a result of the summer holiday and as The Phoenix reported, Loyola does not include test results from third party sites in their metrics.
The current surge, which has already peaked in Illinois, is much less severe to that of the initial Omicron wave when the state was averaging over 30,000 daily cases. Health officials say case data may be unrepresentative of the true scope of the virus’s spread, due to unreported at-home tests and some individuals who are avoiding testing at all.
Despite the recent rise in cases, elected officials have not moved to reinstate mask mandates. Most Americans, suffering from fatigue after more than two years of the pandemic, are ready to return to life as normal despite rising cases, the AP reported.