On June 1st, Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador (MUNL) lifted its mask mandate. While face coverings remain strongly recommended indoors, they are now optional.
There is a remarkable 99% vaccination rate among the MUNL community. It seems like the perfect time to lift the mask mandate- after all, as of June 22, there were a mere 87 cases in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is important to reinstate normalcy in the learning environment.
Studies have shown that removing masks in classrooms leads to more effective learning. It is also difficult to enforce a mask mandate. Masks clearly help reduce the spread of COVID-19. In the unfortunate emergence of a new variant, a mask mandate would reduce the risk and lead to a stable, dependable policy. At the same time, students must have a post-COVID 19 university experience and feel a sense of routine in this ever-changing world. While it is important to remember that we are still in a pandemic and take necessary precautions, now is the time to ease into a stage of coexistence with the virus.
While the university was the first major organization in the province to implement a vaccine mandate, it also suspended the vaccine requirement on June 1. However, this raises the question of whether this decision puts immunocompromised members of the community at risk. Vaccinations have clearly shown to be effective against the transmission of COVID-19, so it is slightly worrisome that the vaccine mandate is no longer in place. Rates of hospitalization and severe COVID-19 cases are higher among unvaccinated individuals. Vaccine requirements put those anxious about the pandemic at ease and can prevent an outbreak in the community.
Although vaccinations are a personal choice, it protects the community, especially those at risk from severe disease. Therefore one should still be cautious and keep in mind that there are members of the community who are either vulnerable or live with those who are vulnerable.
When asked about the recent development, one student stated, “I think it’s about time. If people aren’t comfortable with the mask mandate being lifted, they always have the option of wearing a mask anyway.”
Another student stated, “I agree, why should MUNL still have a mandate when the rest of the province lifted it. There’s always the choice to wear it if you’re not comfortable without it.”
On June 16, MUNSU: Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Student Union closed its office for one week due to a surge in positive COVID cases among workers. The student union argued that the university could have set the ideal standard among Canadian universities but failed to prioritize the community’s safety. As a result, some students wonder, if some students no longer feel safe, does the university have a responsibility to amend its policies accordingly?
It is clear that the majority of the community is ready to move into a new chapter and make the most of this newfound stability and reduction in cases. However, it is essential to respect the choices of everyone, regardless of whether or not one agrees with them.
One thing that we can all agree on is that we want a safe learning experience and a safe St. John’s.