Maskless in McMinnville: Linfield to end mandatory masking, in line with state actions

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Nathan Herde

Linfield joined several other Oregon universities in announcing an end to mandatory masking.

Anna Frazier , Managing Editor

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After three semesters of mandatory mask-wearing, students at Linfield University will be allowed to shed their face coverings soon–if they choose to do so.

The university announced Monday that masks will no longer be required in most settings on campus starting Saturday, March 12. Some places, such as the health center or other health care settings, will still require them. 

“People should continue to keep a mask with them to wear in spaces where they will still be required,” the email announcement read, “and for those moments when a Linfield community member requests face coverings for their safety or for that of loved ones.”

More information on the policy change is expected to come out March 10.

Other Oregon schools, such as Willamette University, Oregon State, and the University of Oregon have made announcements similar to Linfield.

This decision closely tracks the statewide mask mandate lifting in most places on March 12, as announced by Oregon Governor Kate Brown on Feb. 28. California and Washington are also ending their mandates on the same day. As of March 8, Hawaii remains the only state in the country without a plan to lift indoor mask requirements.

Erik Stenehjem, Director of Environmental Health and Safety at Linfield, said the COVID-19 Emergency Response Team’s main objective when reviewing the current guidelines was ensuring Linfield continued its success in handling the virus.

“We have one of the highest vaccination rates in the area for our institution and that makes our community really safe,” Stenehjem said. “We’ve done really well, as Linfield University, so far through the pandemic. And we just want to keep that going.”

After a surge of 114 reported COVID cases in January, the McMinnville campus’s case numbers dropped down to 19 total for the month of February, despite the influx of students for the start of the spring term. An overall downward trend in cases in the nation may have contributed, in part, to the school’s drop.

Stenehjem said the emergency response team met last Thursday to discuss changes to Linfield’s COVID management. They then made recommendations to a policy-focused group. He said they weighed several questions, including how to make Linfield community members feel safe.

“I personally can’t believe that we so quickly moved from ‘everyone needs a KN95 or better’ to lifting the masks,” said Kendra Hutchinson, a sophomore student. She added that she will still be, for the most part, wearing her mask on campus.

Some students are enthusiastic about the university’s decision. Sabrina Anderson, also a sophomore, said she is excited. “This should have happened months ago,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines in early March that use the status of local hospitals, rather than number of positive tests, to evaluate “COVID-19 Community Levels.”

The agency continues to advise universal mask-wearing for counties at a high level. People who are healthy and do not have a recent COVID exposure in low or medium counties can make a decision for themselves, according to these new guidelines. The AP reports that 70% of the US population lives in a county considered low or medium.

Yamhill County, home to Linfield’s McMinnville campus, is at a medium level. Multnomah County, where Linfield’s Portland nursing campus is located, is rated as low.

“I’ll still be wearing my mask until I see if the mask mandate lifting causes a surge in cases,” said Jeff Cash, a senior.