COVID-19 Updates

Mask protocol update

Publication Date

Dear Union College Community Member:

For the past two years the College has been working diligently, following the best available medical science and public health advice, to keep our community safe during the COVID-19 pandemic while also continuing to offer a meaningful Union experience for our students.

Over the past few weeks, transmission of, and hospitalizations caused by, the COVID-19 omicron variant have decreased significantly across much of the country and in Schenectady County. As a result, we are reaching out today to share an important change to our masking protocols.

Effective March 12 masks will be optional in all spaces on the Union College campus, and it is our expectation that we will remain mask-optional for the remainder of the academic year.

Waiting until March 12, which also marks the two-year anniversary of Union’s first COVID-19 case, to change our protocols affords us time to complete winter term class sessions, minimizing any possible disruption that could be caused by changing our practices late in a term. It also gives those who may be wary of making a change some time to adjust to, and prepare for, our new protocols.

It is important to note that masks can continue to be worn by anyone at any time on our campus, as has been the case in our residence halls throughout the academic year.

We also encourage those who are not vaccinated to continue to wear masks indoors for their own wellbeing. Additionally, masks will continue to be required in certain situations, such as in the five-day period following the completion of isolation for COVID-19, in keeping with CDC guidance.

The change is consistent with this week’s decision by Gov. Kathy Hochul to end masking requirements in K-12 schools across the state starting today, and other similar announcements across the state and nation. Additionally, the CDC has updated its guidance on mask usage and is no longer recommending masks be worn in communities where the COVID risk is deemed to be low, based on the number of cases and hospitalizations. Schenectady County is currently in this category as determined by the CDC.

We recognize, and we were reminded on Monday by our COVID-19 Advisory Committee, that there remains a range of risk tolerance related to COVID-19 among members of our community, in part because some individuals or their family members are at higher risk of serious illness if they contract the virus.

We expect that each individual’s personal choice on masking will be accepted in a respectful manner, consistent with our College values and we strongly encourage all those who wish to wear a mask to do so. At the same time, the choice to not wear a mask also needs to be respected, and individuals presiding over classes, meetings or other gatherings should not be seen as pressuring those in attendance to wear a mask.

We understand this decision will make some of our community members uneasy. To help alleviate those concerns and provide an additional layer of safety, the College is offering N95 masks, which have proven to be the most effective form of face covering to prevent the spread of COVID-19, to anyone who would like one. N95 fittings also will be offered next week with details to follow. Please note that public health experts advise us that fitted N95 masks are an effective tool against COVID infection, even when in a room with unmasked individuals.

This change in our mask protocols represents an important step toward what we all hope will be a much more normal Union College experience in the spring but, as with any transition, we realize there will be different levels of comfort as we move forward. Please know that we will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation closely and, as we have done throughout the pandemic, we won’t hesitate to adjust our approach as circumstances warrant.

There are a range of reasonable responses to COVID that we might pursue as individuals, as a college and as a society. As we make this transition, we once again urge everyone to be mindful of the spectrum of views related to COVID-19 that exist on our campus, and to take extra care to be respectful of one another’s decisions in this situation.

Michele Angrist
Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty

Fran’Cee Brown-McClure
Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students

Tye Deines
Chief Human Resources Officer

Scott Jones
Vice President for Administration and Finance