May 17, 2022
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News

IC maintains optional mask policy despite county guidance

Ithaca College is not reinstating its mask policy despite new guidance from the Tompkins County Health Department (TCHD) to wear masks again following an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. 

On the morning of April 27, the TCHD released a public health advisory asking residents to once again wear masks indoors and around others in public settings, despite vaccination status. The county is asking all employees and patrons of the county to begin wearing masks again, however, it is not required at this time. 

According to April 27 data from TCHD, 14 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in the county and there are 81 new positive COVID-19 cases. The TCHD released a statement March 28, explaining that while the new Omicron subvariant BA.2 was detected in the county and cases had increased, hospitalization rates were still quite low. 

Samm Swarts, director of Emergency Preparedness and Response, sent an announcement to the college community in the afternoon April 27 to respond to the county’s change in guidance. Swarts repeated past guidance about staying vigilant by having good hand hygiene, testing for COVID-19 if necessary and acting responsibly. 

Swarts said that at this time, there will be no requirements for face coverings or health badges.

“Our numbers continue to remain at a level that allows us to maintain our Green: Lower Risk operating status, and our current public health policies and protocols therefore remain unchanged,” Swarts said in the email statement. “However, in order to maintain this status and help protect vulnerable members of our IC community, I ask that we all exercise heightened caution and care during this time of elevated risk for our greater Ithaca community.”

According to the college’s COVID-19 Dashboard, as of April 27 there are nine active COVID-19 cases among the college’s students, eight active staff cases and two active faculty cases. 

In the public health advisory, Frank Kuppa, public health director for Tompkins County, said that wearing masks will help the region bring down its positive case and hospitalization numbers.

“This advisory is alerting the community to our strong recommendation that you wear a mask while indoors and around others in public settings,” Kuppa said. “We are monitoring the data on cases and hospitalizations daily, and will continue to do so in order to make the best advisements to the Tompkins County community. At this time, you should wear a mask while indoors and around others.”

TCHD still suggests wearing either KN95 or N95 masks to best protect oneself and others. The county is also offering high-quality, free KN95 masks for residents to use.

Recently, the college has relaxed its COVID-19 prevention strategies after seeing a major decrease in case numbers and intensity of sickness. As of April 11 the college’s students no longer had to fill out daily COVID-19 health screenings or show their IC Health Badge to enter spaces like the Campus Center Dining Hall, Terraces Dining Hall and in some classrooms at the discretion of the professor. On March 4, the college ended its mask mandate indoors regardless of vaccination status.

Lorien Tyne can be reached at ltyne@ithaca.edu