By: Rikki Kolodny  | 

YU Temporarily Mandates Masks Indoors, Will Announce Other COVID Protocol in Coming Weeks

YU instituted a temporary mask mandate for administrative and academic buildings on Monday, Aug. 30 — which excludes residence halls and dining facilities — the COVID Response Team emailed on Aug. 29. Protocols for COVID-19 testing and reporting will be announced in the coming weeks, a YU spokesperson told The Commentator.

“The COVID monitoring team is constantly reviewing our protocols with the guidance of our medical director as well as NYS and NYC guidelines,” the spokesperson said. Any changes to the COVID-19 protocol will “take effect after the holiday break.”

They added, “We fully expect everyone to comply with all the COVID protocols, and appreciate the help of our students, faculty and staff in working with us to enforce the masking mandate in the academic and administrative buildings — working together to respectfully keep each other healthy and safe.” According to students, there is a lack of enforcement of the mask mandate across both campuses, with some professors and many students not wearing masks in classrooms, hallways and elevators. 

The New York City Department of Health labeled both the Washington Heights and Murray Hill — where Wilf and Beren Campuses are located, respectively — as areas of “high transmission” for COVID-19. 

As of publication, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Chaim Nissel and Assistant Dean of Students Joe Bednarsh did not respond to The Commentator’s inquiries regarding the number of current cases and YU’s enforcement of the mask mandate.

After an emergency meeting of the YU Faculty Council on Aug. 24, the council sent a resolution to the administration requesting that masks be mandated indoors for all individuals, regardless of vaccination status. This meeting was called after Vice Provost Chaim Nissel sent an email out school-wide, informing the University that masks would not be mandated. However, according to the email, YU noted that it expected “that if a faculty or staff member asks students to wear a mask... the student will understand and comply with the request.”

Back in April, YU announced that all students needed to be vaccinated before Fall 2021, with few medical and religious exceptions. Initially, masks were not required for vaccinated individuals who submitted a negative PCR test prior to move-in. The policy is subject to modification, the email said. 

Professors and some students are divided about YU’s mask mandate.

Prof. Abraham Ravid, chair of the Finance Department and co-chair of the Faculty Council, was pleased with this development. “I strongly support the mask mandate … and I think it will lead to safer classrooms, elevators and corridors, remove possible friction between faculty and students and bring back the cooperative learning environment we are so proud of at YU.”  He also told The Commentator that the faculty council “sent a thank you note to the president and the provost on this decision.” 

Yeshiva College English Department Chair Prof. Rachel Mesch feels similarly. “One of the unfortunate things about the way the mandate came about is that it seemed to pit professors against students,” she said. “I would want students to understand that this is not at all about personal choice, or what people are or are not comfortable with, which is unfortunately the language that has been used. It's simply a public health issue.”  

Mesch also believes that the administration should be more transparent “in terms of how many positive cases” are on campus and that regular testing should be reinstated. “Of course, no one wants to be wearing masks. It's just as uncomfortable for faculty as it is for students if not more so. But that's the public health situation we're in.” 

Some students aligned with the professors and felt that YU made the right move. “For a person who is high risk and has high risk family members, I always have my mask on,” Tal Orbach (SCW ‘24) told The Commentator. “I believe everyone should wear their masks and those who don't, don't understand that they are putting others in danger. I believe YU did the right thing by mandated masks because it ensures the protection of all students, faculty members and their close family.”

Others disagreed and were upset with the new policy. One student (SCW ‘23), who spoke anonymously, said, “I think it’s really frustrating that we now have to wear masks in class. I understand the university is doing it’s best to keep us safe, but masks make it difficult to focus, not to mention difficult to breathe. I wear my mask out of respect for the school rules, but I sincerely wish they hadn’t instated the mandate.” 

Still, others are split. “When I first heard that YU was requiring vaccinations and stopping the mask requirement I, like many others, was relieved,” Eli Saperstein (SSSB ‘23) told The Commentator. “For the most part, these policies made sense and it really felt like YU was on the students’ side in balancing the students’ comfort, productivity, and our ability to learn while not compromising on the students’ safety.” 

“Even though the mask requirement is only being enforced by some teachers it has still dampened the energy and relief that I and many students had come to a COVID-free campus,” Saperstein added, “it feels that YU is going to return to the restrictive campus it was last year albeit slowly and begrudgingly but nonetheless not the ‘new’ campus in my short time here that I have come to know and love.”

Photo Caption: Fall 2021 orientation for students on Wilf Campus

Photo Credit: Yeshiva University