By: Sruli Fruchter  | 

COVID-19 Numbers Skyrocket on Wilf Campus With 49 Positive Cases as YU Struggles to Enforce Mask Mandate

49 Wilf students have tested positive for COVID-19 since Thursday, Oct. 7, the COVID Monitoring Team emailed students and staff on Tuesday, Oct. 12. Only three cases were reported on Beren Campus.

The email detailed how YU will be cracking down on its temporary, university-wide mask mandate, which was instituted five days after the semester began on Wednesday, Aug. 25. While the mandate initially applied only to academic and administrative buildings, it will now include the cafeteria and “public spaces” in residence halls, such as lounges and hallways. The university did not share any disciplinary actions that would be taken against those who did not abide by the mandate. Students and staff needed to submit proof of vaccination before returning to campus, as part of YU's vaccine requirement announced last semester and over the summer.

“It is of utmost importance that everyone follows this mandate to keep our campuses safe, along with participating in our ongoing testing,” the monitoring team wrote. 

The university will also begin randomly testing faculty and staff, and students will continue with bi-weekly testing, which began last week. Additionally, students will now need to receive approval before testing outside of YU’s program. The COVID-19 Tracker will also be available online again next week, the email said.

After maariv in the Glueck Beit Midrash last night, Undergraduate Torah Studies Dean Rabbi Yosef Kalinsky warned students that COVID-19 cases are heading in “the wrong direction” and encouraged them to begin wearing masks. Earlier that day, students were tested for the third time since in-person classes resumed after chagim on Monday, Oct. 3. Rabbi Kalinsky made a similar announcement in Zysman Hall’s Fischel Beit Midrash this morning, and RIETS Dean Rabbi Penner spoke as well in the Glueck Beit Midrash. 

The rise in cases and the subsequent announcements come as YU has struggled to enforce its mask mandate on campus since it was first instituted.

When the semester began on Wednesday, Aug. 25, there was no required testing or masking for vaccinated students and staff. Two days later, YU’s COVID Response Team notified the community about several new positive cases. That Sunday, Aug. 29, the university announced a temporary, indoor mask mandate in all campus buildings, excluding residence halls and dining halls. 

In the following days, students and staff largely followed the new policy, but compliance among students significantly dwindled toward the middle of the week. On Wilf Campus, the majority of students did not wear masks in places like the campus library or the beit midrash and the policy was essentially not enforced. At the time, some faculty members did not wear or require masks in their classrooms, going against YU’s policy. Beren Campus experienced similar reactions to a lesser degree. 

Friday, Sept. 3 was the last day of in-person instruction before classes went on Zoom for the few days of school over the break for chagim. Students and faculty returned to the classroom on Monday, Oct. 3, the same day YU reinstituted its COVID-19 Monitoring Program.

Last week, the lack of masking became more widespread. On the Wilf Campus, the overwhelming majority of students did not wear masks, as well as a handful of professors and many rebbeim. On the Beren Campus, students became more relaxed with the guidelines, while more professors did not wear masks nor enforce them during class.   

Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, speculated that, until now, “many [Wilf] students were under the impression that Covid was going away and didn’t wear masks.” Since Rabbi Kalinsky’s announcement, most Wilf students have begun wearing masks in the beit midrash, with many doing the same in other areas, too.

“Most people [on Wilf] aren’t wearing masks, so I’m not really that surprised," Moshe Rechester (SSSB ‘25) said.

Sy Syms School of Business Student Council President Akiva Poppers felt reassured by the university's response. “The YU administration, which is supported by the student leaders, made a fantastic and praiseworthy decision to switch to twice a week testing for the first few weeks back after Succos,” he said. “I strongly encourage the wearing of masks, particularly KN95 and N95 respirator masks, during this spike, and YU’s extension of a mask mandate to all buildings is warranted. I trust that the administration will take the necessary, reasonable, measures to slow the spread so that we can return to normal campus life by the end of October.”

Rabbi Blau added, “Only if the Rebbeim and faculty jointly both wear masks themselves and demand that their students wear them can there be meaningful enforcement.”

Photo Caption: Wilf students in the beit midrash before the mask mandate took effect.

Photo Credit: Yeshiva University