Officials at Princeton University and Rowan University on Wednesday separately announced they would end campus mask mandates in most settings as COVID-19 cases dropped across the region.
Princeton will lift its indoor mask mandate in most areas beginning March 14 and cut back on its COVID-19 testing requirement for fully vaccinated individuals. In announcing the changes, Princeton officials said 94% of the campus received a booster shot along with a 98% vaccination rate.
“We know of no community that has done a better job of protecting itself against COVID-19, and we thank you for your part in achieving these excellent vaccination and booster rates,” Provost Debbie Prentice and Executive Vice President Treby Williams said in a letter to students, faculty, staff and researchers.
“Although COVID-19 infection is never welcome, the good news is that students’ symptoms have remained mild and there have been no hospitalizations. Moreover, in the face of the spike in undergraduate cases, case rates for faculty, staff, and graduate students have remained low (consistent with the low case rates in our region),” the letter said.
Masks will still be required at McCosh Health Center and on TigerTransit buses, along with “people who are instructed to wear a mask as part of isolation or quarantine protocols or were identified as a close contact,” according to officials.
As of March 7, people who are fully vaccinated and received a booster dose will be required to take COVID-19 tests monthly instead of weekly, according to the letter.
“Those who would like to continue testing weekly may continue to do so. Individuals who are not up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters (including those with vaccine exceptions or accommodations) must continue to test weekly,” officials said.
More details were posted on Princeton’s COVID-19 website. After spring break, all undergraduate students will be required to submit a test within 24 hours of returning to campus or within 24 hours of March 14 for undergraduates who stayed on campus over the break.
“These changes to our masking policy and asymptomatic testing program align with the CDC’s criteria to mitigate against severe disease and high demand on area hospitals, as well as the University’s objective to mitigate against significant disruptions to our core operations. These are the criteria that will guide us in our decisions about whether to increase or decrease mitigations on campus in the future,” Prentice and Williams said.
At Rowan University in Glassboro, officials said masks would be optional as of March 7 in most settings. Masks will still be required at some locations, including health care clinical settings, and for those exposed to someone with COVID-19, the university said on its website.
“After two years of restrictions and heeding public health protocols, we welcome the chance to take a huge and hopeful step on our way out of pandemic public health mandates,” Rowan Provost Tony Lowman, Vice President for Human Resources Terri Drye, Dean of Students Kevin S. Koett and Wellness Center Director Scott Woodside said in a joint announcement.
“It’s important for all of us to remember that some people may feel uncomfortable being around unmasked individuals. Additionally, many vaccinated individuals may choose to wear a mask for their own safety or for the safety of their loved ones. Please be respectful of everyone’s choices,” a message from Rowan officials said.
As of March 7, Rowan said daily health screening for students, employees and on-campus vendors will not be required. The school also published more details about testing on its website.
“Through May 5, weekly testing of unvaccinated employees and students will remain mandatory and will be available through the Wellness Center and will continue on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. in the Owl’s Nest in Chamberlain Student Center. Testing also is available for anyone who requests it,” officials said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week loosened its guidelines for wearing masks in a move that put 70% of the country’s population in areas without a mask recommendation. New Jersey previously lifted its mask mandate for most indoor spaces.
Federal health officials have moved away from using infection counts as the main data point for mask recommendations. Instead, officials said they would look at metrics, including cases, hospitalizations and local hospital capacity.
Cases of COVID-19 have plunged in the region following a surge driven by the omicron variant that started late last year.
Noah Cohen may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today to NJ.com.