Wheaton College goes ‘mask optional’ for most indoor settings

NORTON – Wheaton College has shifted to a “mask-optional” policy on campus, joining several local colleges modifying their health guidelines in the wake of declining COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

People on campus who are vaccinated and boosted are no longer required by Wheaton to were masks in most indoor settings, Wheaton administrators said in a Feb. 25 letter to the campus community. The policy started Monday.

Masks will still be required in classrooms and academic spaces while faculty-led pedagogical work is in session, the Norton Medical Center, the counseling center and testing center, according to the letter from Darnell Park, Wheaton vice president for student affairs and dean of students, and Zachary Irish, associate vice president for student fffairs and chair of the COVID-19 Task Force.

Irish and Parker said in the letter that the changes were in line with the Mass. Department of Public Health’s new guidelines, which dropped the mask mandate across the commonwealth on Monday. The college also saw declining positive cases and high vaccination rates on campus – 99% vaccination compliance and 92% boosted – which allowed Wheaton to adjust its protocols, Irish and Parker said. Wheaton, like many local colleges, implemented indoor mask mandates regardless of vaccination status at the start of the academic year in September.

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Those who are unvaccinated or not yet boosted are still required to wear masks indoors, the college said. Wheaton also on Monday returned to allowing guests into residence halls, and once-per-week testing on campus will continue. Wheaton also plans to transfer ownership and consideration of COVID-19 policies to “individual divisions” in advance of disbanding the college’s COVID-19 Task Force after the spring semester.

Wheaton now joins the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Stonehill College in Easton, Providence College, Roger Williams University in Bristol and Bryant University in Smithfield as being among the local colleges that have adjusted their on-campus mask mandates.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.