End of Mask Mandate at UMass Amherst

Earlier this week, the faculty, staff, and students at UMass, received notification about the end of the indoor mask mandate. I am not here to discuss the validity of this decision; frankly as I am not a epidemiologist or related scientist, I do not feel qualified to make such a decision. What I think is important is that this moment had to come, and no matter when it came, there was going to be a subset of the population who would not be ready. Moreover, I do not feel it is my role to comment on folks’ motivations for not being ready: their reasons are their own. What I want to reflect on is the more practical: this happened, what can we, as instructors do about it?

Here is what I did, there is no claim that this was the best course of action, but I figured I would share in case it helps others. If someone reading this has my email and would like to provide feedback, I welcome it.

My goal is for as many students in my class to be as comfortable as possible – not an easy task in a room of 300 people. What I said was (working from memory),

“I want y’all to know that I found out at the same time as you did – I was not keeping information about the relaxation of the mask mandate from you. Moreover, I am not a epidemiologist or public health professional. I am trained as a particle physicist. Thus, I do not really feel qualified to have an opinion on whether this is the right decision at this time or not.

Regardless, this is the state we are in. My goal is for as many folks in this class to be as comfortable as possible. If you are not ready to not wear a mask in here, I will support you. If you want to take yours off, there are experts who suggest that is a reasonable thing to do. As part of making as many people comfortable working with me as possible, I will continue to wear one in class.

If you would like to move to a remote mode of delivery for this class, that is an option for you. Even if you signed up to have an attendance commitment, I am perfectly willing to remove this for you under these circumstances. Just let me know.

I have also decided that I will use the upcoming spring break to incorporate a synchronous remote option for students who are not comfortable in a large lecture hall under the new circumstances. I have been playing with this idea, but these new circumstances have forced the issue. I will make notes here going forward about how I accomplished this and how it goes.