An Update on Masking on Campus

By Louis Chase

New students arriving at Reed during Orientation Week were greeted by a campus with few visible signs of the COVID pandemic. Gone are the days of surveillance testing and the campus-wide mask mandate, both of which were phased out during summer 2022, as well as isolation housing for students diagnosed with COVID, which was phased out before the start of the present semester. Only a few students, faculty, or staff can be seen wearing masks in most public spaces on campus. With Reed moving with the rest of the United States into acceptance of an endemic phase of COVID, the state of COVID precautions on-campus has become less obvious, as exemplified by questions pertaining to mask use.

Reed’s current COVID policies, including those pertaining to masks, are publicized through the COVID-19 FAQ page on the Reed website, which is accessible at All policies articulated in the COVID-19 FAQ are based on Oregon Health Authority guidance. According to the FAQ, “Reed does not require the use of face coverings in most situations.” Masks are still required by default in healthcare settings, namely the Health and Counseling Center. Individuals who have tested positive for COVID, have COVID-like symptoms, or were exposed to COVID in the last 10 days are also required to wear a mask in public settings. A list of COVID-like symptoms published by the CDC is linked further down in the FAQ for anyone who is curious whether their symptoms qualify as COVID-like. Although the school-wide guidance is very lenient, faculty and event organizers are permitted to require masks in class or at events as they see fit. Additionally, the FAQ states that Reed “highly encourages mask wearing during periods of elevated COVID activity in the community, as well as for all who feel more comfortable with face coverings in any situation.”

During Orientation Week, anyone wishing to learn about Reed’s COVID policies would have needed to search for the COVID-19 FAQ or find it linked on the bottom of the homepage. Sometime in the interval between August 29 and September 2, the Reed homepage was updated to display a banner with a prominent link to the COVID-19 FAQ, as verified by an Internet Archive search. The latest archived version of the Reed homepage without the banner is dated to several hours before the Quest sent an initial inquiry to the administration for this article. 

Associate Dean of Students for Health and Wellbeing Dr. Yasodha Gopal provided extensive comment on Reed’s mask and general COVID policies, especially concerning how they have been communicated to the campus community. According to Dr. Gopal, Reed is following the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), CDC, and American College Health Association (ACHA) for COVID guidance, and is “always ready to pivot based on their guidance as things change.” The COVID-19 FAQs were produced based on this guidance in consultation with Madison Riethman MPH, Reed’s public health consultant, and the Reed Emergency Response Team, which has been the main COVID authority at Reed since the COVID Risk Assessment Group (CRAG) was dissolved in June 2022. 

Dr. Gopal says that the current version of the COVID-19 FAQs was produced after the federal Public Health Emergency for COVID ended on 5/11/23 and announced via a banner on the Reed website. A letter was sent to incoming first-year students advising them of Reed’s COVID policies, but it was not sent to the entire community, because “most of us were here on 5/11/23 and aware of the website FAQs.” However, new communication from the Health and Wellbeing team is coming soon as of the time of writing. Dr. Gopal and Timmie Rochon DNP also reached out to Res Life on 8/14/23 “to reinforce that we are following OHA guidelines.” Dr. Gopal emphasized that masking is always the best way to prevent transmission of any respiratory illness, including but not limited to COVID, and that all those who wish to mask are welcome to do so even when not explicitly required. 

A publicly available supply of disposable masks exists for any community members unable to obtain their own. The COVID-19 FAQ states that these masks are available at the HCC and mailroom. Dr. Gopal says that the publicly available supply of disposable masks in the mailroom includes 5,000 individually wrapped units and is available for pickup Monday through Friday from 9 AM – 4 PM. 

Despite the communications from Dr. Gopal and Rochon, some student workers in critical roles reported having received no information from their employers on how the COVID guidance was applicable to their specific contexts. According to one HA, “the word ‘mask’ wasn’t even mentioned” in any communication from Res Life about their role. Furthermore, the Reed COVID-19 FAQ states that as of Fall 2023 students who test positive for COVID are now responsible for quarantining in their own residence halls rather than in isolation housing, putting even more responsibility for preventing COVID transmission on HAs. 

Students with Disabilities Coalition (SWDC) co-presidents Eliana Feinstein and Catherine Hoyle, speaking in their personal capacities, shared concerns about the level of communication between the student body and administration on COVID policies. Feinstein described a state of “general confusion” on masks, while according to Hoyle, “the only reason I knew a little about the masking policies was going through the syllabi with my teachers.” Hoyle said that “being on campus, you have to figure out [without assistance] what resources are still there,” and that she wishes there had been “any communication, with professors and with students, about what we can do and what are the available resources.” Both also said there had been no communication between SWDC and the administration on COVID, and that some degree of dialogue between the administration and students would be beneficial.

Feinstein emphasized that, as someone who is immunocompromised, she must be “even more vigilant and isolated” when other people take fewer COVID precautions. She added, “For some people COVID is a cold, and for me COVID could present lifelong complications,” and that “it would be so much better if other people could [wear a mask] too.” Hoyle noted that “even if you or your friends or your loved ones aren’t experiencing complications from COVID, just know that people do experience those implications, it can be life-changing, and wearing masks does make a difference.”

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