In an email sent to the Willamette community on Feb. 28, the Willamette COVID Advisory Team announced that in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and an [announcement] by Oregon Governor Kate Brown, masks will no longer be required indoors on campus starting on Saturday, March 12, 2022. Gov. Brown announced on Feb. 28 that indoor mask mandates will be lifted statewide on March 12, the same day that indoor mask mandates will be lifted in Washington and California. This announcement comes exactly [two years] after Willamette moved classes online on March 12, 2020, and almost two years since distance learning was extended indefinitely on March 16, 2020.
Masks will no longer be required indoors, including in classrooms, but will still be required in Bishop Wellness Center in accordance with regulations around masks in healthcare settings.
Visitors to campus and spectators at sports events will no longer have to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, nor a negative COVID-19 test starting March 12. This includes both indoor and outdoor events.
The email explained that the decision to lift the mandate was “informed by a variety of important factors,” including low case counts and high rates of full vaccination, including 92% booster compliance. Other factors include low hospitalization and death rates connected to the Omicron variant, which remains the dominant strain of the virus in the United States, and the “negative psychological effects” caused by long-term social distancing.
The email said that “public health experts are advising that factors like hospital capacity and access to treatment, more than case counts, should be primary decision-making metrics moving forward” in making decisions about COVID-19 and mask policies. As of Feb. 27, the New York Times [reported] across-the-board declines in the fourteen-day changes for deaths, I.C.U. cases, hospitalizations, tests, and cases in Oregon. Notably, hospitalizations and I.C.U. cases are down 39% and 38% respectively, but the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) [reports] that 88 out of 96 staffed adult ICU beds and 690 out of 711 staffed non-adult ICU beds in Marion County are occupied as of Feb. 28, 2022. Those numbers do not include either the emergency maximum capacity of hospitals, which would raise the number of beds, nor staffing limitations, which would limit the number of beds.
The email noted that members of the community will react differently to this policy change, including continuing to wear masks, and urged everyone to “support individuals’ personal decisions to wear a mask, despite the changes in public health guidance that no longer require it.” It also encouraged the immunocompromised and those with “underlying health conditions” to continue to wear well-fitted masks, especially an N95 or KN95 mask, around others, in accordance with “health guidance.”
The university asked students to email feedback regarding changing the university’s mask policy to ASWU at ASWU Senate meetings on Feb. 18 and 25.