Emerson to shift to mask-optional policy beginning March 21

By Charlie McKenna and Bailey Allen

Emerson will drop its mask mandate for non-classroom indoor spaces on March 21, shifting to a mask-optional policy as statewide COVID-19 cases continue to fall from the highs reached during the winter months amid a surge fueled by the Omicron variant. 

The college’s decision comes on the heels of Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker loosening the state’s mask mandate for fully vaccinated individuals, permitting them to go maskless in indoor spaces unless they are part of a group vulnerable to the virus. Boston’s mask mandate remains in place as of Friday, marking a rare split between the college and the city on COVID-19 policy. 

Emerson intends to shift to an entirely mask-optional campus beginning May 16, Interim President Bill Gilligan wrote in a Friday afternoon email to the community. Gilligan also announced that the college intends to allow fully vaccinated guests who are 18-years-old or over into residence halls on Feb. 22, the first time during the course of the pandemic.

According to a secondary email from Housing and Residential Education, all guests will need to be pre-registered through the housing portal and attest to be fully vaccinated. Guests must be escorted by residential students at all times within residence halls and cannot stay longer than 72 hours.

The College will begin to move toward an approach in which it responds to the ebb and flow of the COVID virus as part of institutional operations,” Gilligan wrote. 

The decision comes amid a steady decline in positive COVID-19 tests at Emerson since the beginning of the spring semester. The week of testing ending on Feb. 13 marked the first during the course of the semester when the weekly total fell below double digits, with just seven positive tests being reported. 

Gilligan wrote that Emerson will disband its COVID-19 team over the summer instead letting individual departments consider COVID-19 policies as part of normal operations. 

Emerson briefly dropped its mask mandate in summer 2021 but reinstated the mandate ahead of the fall 2021 semester. 

The Friday afternoon announcement appears to signal Emerson attempting to provide a college experience closer to the pre-pandemic reality.