Penn State community members react to the end of masking at the university
It's been almost two weeks since Penn State ended its indoor masking requirement on March 23. Many faculty, staff and students are excited for the change, but others are more hesitant.
"It was my favorite day of the semester to see their faces and their smiles. That was awesome!" said Penn State Spanish professor Susana García-Prudencio.
It had been more than two years, starting Mar. 6, 2020, since professors and students attended in-person classes maskless. While García-Prudencio and others were excited about the change, but they're also hesitant.
"It was a shock. It was a shock because I thought that they were going to wait until the end of the semester and I thought that would be the smart thing to do," García-Prudencio said.
Some students were also surprised by the news and wish it was announced less abruptly.
"After being here for like a week or so now of it being the normal again, it's still weird because we were in this for like two years. But now it's kind of like I guess this is, we're back to face-to-face communication for the time being." said third-year student Daniel Sherry.
Penn State's news release said professors could ask their students to wear masks in class. García-Prudencio spoke with her sections about their preferences.
"If you want to use the mask that's good. If you don't want to use them that's OK, too," she said. "But if there's someone that is worried or has a problem with it we should talk about it and all of us should follow the same rule."
Her class decided to not wear masks anymore.
Sherry doesn't wear a mask in his classes either, but he said he does that because his classes are small. He still wants to keep his family safe from the virus by not bringing it home. His mom is a State College resident and Penn State employee. She's immunocompromised and nervous about the change to the masking policy.
"I am not going out and doing things in large groups. I don't know when I'll ever go to a movie again, and I don't know when I'll ever feel comfortable going to a concert again," said Sherry's mom, Joslyn Neiderer. "Watching videos of people at concerts kind of gives me anxiety because it's like too many faces and no masks."
Neiderer is a team marketing coordinator in the College of Agriculture for the university. She still takes COVID precautions like wearing her mask when she goes out and social distancing. She still gets groceries delivered or goes to the store late to avoid crowds. For work, she goes into the office on Thursdays and Fridays, while her coworkers are there earlier in the week.
She said when she gets sick it lasts for weeks compared to someone without these health issues who may only feel bad for a few days.
Sherry said he's noticed people judging those who still wear a mask after the policy change.
"I remember the first day the mask mandate got lifted completely. I walked into the HUB and just put my mask on out of habit, and I got some kind of dirty looks. I was surprised I was getting weird stares," Sherry said.
Neiderer thinks that sometimes people forgot about those who have health issues making it harder to live with COVID.
"Just the level of anger that people had that they had to wear masks, their kids had to wear masks and you're just sort of like, 'Well, you know, what about me?'" said Neiderer. "I deserve to have a life, too. I want to go outside. I want to go to work. And it was sort of like, 'Well, you can go home.'"
A more contagious Omicron sub-variant of the virus, BA.2, is now spreading in the United States, but it has yet to cause an increase in COVID numbers in the State College area.