Viterbo moves to “masks recommended,” students react


Mitchell Shaw, Campus Life Editor

A decisive move from Viterbo University’s COVID-19 Response Team was made just before students went into their spring break. Due to a variety of positive factors, the Viterbo community is transitioning now to a “mask recommended” learning environment. Though schools across Wisconsin have made this move previously, the decision did catch some by surprise on Viterbo’s campus and students are divided on if they are ready for this change. 


Wednesday, March 2, 2022, the Viterbo COVID-19 Response team announced, via email, “the lifting of the mask requirements in all campus buildings at the end of the day on Friday, March 11.” As of March 12, all campus facilities, except health services, have become “mask recommended” environments. This allows the freedom for students, staff, and faculty to choose whether they wear their masks or not. 


According to their announcement, the team’s decision was guided by a variety of positive factors. “Our vaccination level on campus of both employees and students is higher than La Crosse County,” they noted, “COVID-19 cases are declining in the county and remain low on campus; transmission levels within the county have dropped and La Crosse County now is categorized as low transmission.” Also stated is that there is widespread availability to vaccines, testing options, and medical treatments for COVID-19. 


“It feels like Viterbo is just now catching up with everywhere else,” Jackie Matthews, senior engineering and mathematics major, responded, “I walked into my first class, and everyone was like, ‘what’s up? Nobody is wearing masks, alright. How’s it going? We’re seeing peoples’ faces and stuff,’ and it’s fine.” Matthews’ ease of acceptance resonates with most students choosing to leave their masks at home. 


“It has been two years now, it’s time,” declared senior nursing student, Brianne Pennell, “I don’t feel any anxiety from [removing my mask]. Aside from clinicals, the only place I have been wearing my mask [recently] has been at school, because ‘we were supposed to.’” Pennell even went as far to say, “I was hoping for [the change] because all the other schools in the area, as well as all the other colleges in Wisconsin, had been removing their mask mandates.” 


One thing many students brought up was the oddity of lifting the mandate the first day of spring break. Though accepting of the team’s decision, junior business major, Morgan James expressed the concern, “We all go out to our different states and then come back and we’re like, ‘let’s all share our germs again.’” James did note that, because of this, she has observed “a majority of people are still carrying their masks, just in case, but I think 90 percent of people are not wearing them.”  


Unlike Pennell, Matthews, and James, some students are not as immediately accepting of the new guidelines. Two performing arts students, who choose to remain anonymous, agreed to share why they believe the decision was made too soon. “Yeah, it did come as a surprise; I had hoped it would happen eventually, but I was not expecting an email so soon,” student one responded. “I just assumed we would ride it out for the rest of the semester and then next fall [the mask mandate] would come under review again.” 


“I hoped we would have stayed masked for the rest of the semester,” student two stated. “We were so close and there is such high risk for another out-break [being mask-less] that it just makes sense to keep doing what we were doing and reassess at the end of summer.” Student two said the decision delivers high anxiety as familiar consequences could return. 


“I am anxious, but there is nothing I can do to stop it,” student two said. “We missed out on a lot when Covid first happened. I’m in a show and I don’t want my performance to get canceled. I don’t want us to stop being able to meet in person.” Both students choose to continue wearing masks to their classes and noted that most students in the performance world have also elected to do so. 


Following the first day of classes post break, the Viterbo COVID-19 Response Team has followed up with an email updating the Viterbo community. In this update, the team highlights that though masks are not required, they are recommended, and “All individuals are welcome to mask at any time for their own safety.” The team encourages students not feeling well to wear a mask. They stated that though faculty and staff, unless documented with an ADA accommodation, cannot require students to wear a mask, they can encourage students to. They ask community members to “consider the situation where others may find themselves and why they may be asking you to consider masking.” 


The team recognizes the “the change in our campus masking situation has altered the way in which we interact with one another.” The team attempts to offer the community solace in sharing the news, “The campus community levels for reporting at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine are high for both employees (89.7%) and students (89.8%). This compares to data for La Crosse County which reports 73.5% of residents have at least one dose. These are positive indicators that the campus remains a safe environment.”