Concordia College students are meeting face-to-face in the first full week after the school announced it would be lifting its mask mandate.
The decision, which was announced to students in an email Wednesday morning, was made following changes to the Center for Disease Control’s masking policies and a decrease in COVID-19 infections in the county. The move comes after other schools in the region, including Minnesota State University Moorhead and North Dakota State University lifted their campus mandates.
Masks are no longer required in public spaces or classrooms, though students may still choose to wear one, and professors can require masks to be worn inside their classrooms.
With the lifting of the mandate comes a new approach to COVID-19, one which students are not entirely sure how to address.
“Concordia plays the role of the ethical leader, and signals what people should do, even if people aren’t completely informed of it,” said senior Ben Weinzierl.
Weinzierl said students may be willing to go maskless even without grasping the full picture of the situation because they trust Concordia is making informed decisions for them.
Sophomore Josh Kramer said, “If the college and CDC think it’s safe, then the decision should be up to the students.”
While this may be true in part, the reaction on campus has been mixed. Some embrace the change, seeing it as the beginning of returning to normal after two years in a pandemic, while others are hesitant to abandon what has become standard protocol, fearing another spike in infection rates could soon follow. The majority of students appear to remain neutral to the issue and are comfortable with or without masks.
“I feel like most students are happy about it. They feel more empowered to make not only their own decisions but their own health decisions,” said Weinzierl.
Some students have stated they see the reaction from students being much more decisive than in the past.
“I don’t see masks below the nose anymore. It’s either a full mask or not at all,” said Caden Neterer.
Junior Madelynn Schumacher said, “I am personally going to continue to wear my mask, even though I know that the mask mandate is lifted. I’m not immunocompromised, but I have a heart condition and anemia. So, I do not want anything to mess with my cardiovascular system.”
While students are more willing to make masking decisions for themselves, there are issues that have been raised with the change in protocol.
A common source of concern among students was the quick turnaround with which the mandate was lifted.
Schumacher said she wished for Concordia to remain consistent with its regulations. “I honestly wish that they would have just kept it through the end of the semester.”
This sentiment was echoed by first-year student Jacob Schoenborn, who said they were surprised to see the mandate lifted so close to the end of the year.
“I was kind of shocked at how quick it was, and assumed they were going to wait until next year to implement any changes with masking. I think the sudden shift (with masking) came with the sudden shift in (case) numbers; it declined exponentially,” Schoenborn said.
Concordia had previously tightened masking rules to include all public spaces back in December following the outbreak of the Omicron variant and a spike in infection rates on campus and in the county. While many students are excited to gain a more “normal” college experience with the lifting of the mandate, they are hesitant about how long it will last.
“I was a little skeptical at first,” said Nicole Fornshell. “I feared taking them (masks) off would lead to an increase in cases.”
Concordia continues to actively monitor the COVID situation and follow and make decisions based on CDC guidelines. While the change in the rules indicates some improvement, it is unknown whether or not this decision will be temporary.