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Campus Masking Policy Follows Best Practices, Community Care Approach

We know wearing a mask reduces the spread of COVID-19. Preventive measures such as physical distancing and thorough handwashing also help slow the spread of the virus, but according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19’s primary mode of transmission is through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. Health professionals unanimously agree: The most effective deterrent is a wearing a face covering. Yet about 10% of Americans still do not wear a mask. How can we convince people to comply with this easy, life-saving effort?

As a global public health expert, President Elizabeth Bradley has been involved in studies on what motivates individuals to comply with health and safety mandates. Something as simple (and critical) as handwashing, for example, was studied at a major teaching hospital to determine the best methods to ensure employees washed their hands. Education and training only resulted in 35% compliance. Recognition and rewards raised compliance to 50%.

But 95% compliance was achieved when staffers shared accountability, where they worked in an environment that supported people and encouraged staff at all levels—from doctors to technicians to orderlies—to speak up, be a part of decision making, and take responsibility for each other.

“Large-scale change comes from the acceptance that we all need each other's help in adhering to new required behaviors,” says President Bradley. “For example, practice gently reminding each other when we veer from the expectations and foster the ability to thank others when you are reminded that you are not meeting the expectations. We are in it together, helping each other elevate our practices to be safer and healthier for the whole.”

Matt says, “Keep each other safe by keeping yourself safe. Wear a mask.”

As Vassar prepares to welcome students back to campus for fall semester, the school’s masking policy is a central component to ensuring the health and safety of everyone. Anchored in the emerging scientific understanding of the transmission of COVID-19 and informed by the CDC, New York State Department of Health, and the Dutchess County Department of Behavioral & Community Health, Vassar’s masking policy requires everyone on campus—students, employees and visitors—to wear a mask or face covering at all times. Exceptions include: when alone in private/unshared rooms or offices; when stationary outdoors and able to maintain a six-foot social distance from others; or if running or biking for exercise. The policy is clear that, when outdoors, a mask is required while in transit (walking).

Friendly and encouraging signs are being posted around campus as reminders to “keep each other safe by keeping yourself safe.” Classrooms, meeting rooms, and dining halls will strictly adhere to room capacity limits, and rigorous cleaning protocols that pay special attention to high-touch and high-traffic areas will be followed.

In keeping with the effective strategy of shared accountability, Vassar is focusing on a standard of community care centered around an ethos of looking out for each other—bringing meaning to the phrase “We precedes me.” Community care means that everyone thinks both about the individual and the communal impacts of the things we do and how they contribute to minimizing the potential for the spread of COVID-19.

“This challenging new era gives us an opportunity to not only recognize but also act in ways that embrace our interconnectedness and shared humanity--values fundamental to a strong educational community,” says President Bradley.