Updates to Masking & COVID-19 Testing Program Protocols

March 2, 2022

On March 2, Provost Deborah Prentice and Executive Vice President Treby Williams emailed all faculty, staff, undergraduates, graduate students, and researchers the following message:

Dear colleagues and students,

We write to offer a current assessment of COVID-19 risk on campus and to update you about upcoming changes to the University masking policy and the campus asymptomatic testing program.

Concerning the current state of our campus, we are pleased to report a 94% booster rate, building on our 98% vaccination rate achieved in the fall. We know of no community that has done a better job of protecting itself against COVID-19, and we thank you for your part in achieving these excellent vaccination and booster rates.

Our campus has shown itself to be resilient to a recent spike in cases in the undergraduate population. Although COVID-19 infection is never welcome, the good news is that students’ symptoms have remained mild and there have been no hospitalizations. Moreover, in the face of the spike in undergraduate cases, case rates for faculty, staff, and graduate students have remained low (consistent with the low case rates in our region).

Moving forward, we will continue to be guided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which recently released new guidelines aimed at giving people the information they need to make good decisions for themselves and their families, while also enabling communities to get back to a semblance of normality.

As President Eisgruber said in his State of the University letter and in campus gatherings last month, the University will move forward to loosen or eliminate restrictions responsibly, so that we can restore more of the engaging and enriching experiences for which Princeton is known. Our high vaccination and booster rates make it possible for us to adapt our strategies and reclaim the elements of human interaction that matter most to our community. Among these are lively classroom environments in which instructors and students can more effectively communicate.

Given the new guidance from the CDC and the University’s objective to restore a richer in-person experience, we are moving from mandatory masking to optional masking in most situations. This move will enable individuals to make their own decisions about whether or not to wear a mask while fostering a non-judgmental campus environment in which people’s individual choice to wear a mask or not is honored.

In addition, we are transitioning our asymptomatic testing protocol from once a week for most populations to once a month. Individuals may, however, continue to test weekly if they wish.

Here is how we will implement these changes in our COVID-19 policies and programs:

Beginning March 7, individuals who are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters will be required to test monthly instead of weekly. Those who would like to continue testing weekly may continue to do so. Individuals who are not up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters (including those with vaccine exceptions or accommodations) must continue to test weekly. Please visit the COVID Resources site for the new schedule.

With this shift in testing, the asymptomatic testing program will be used primarily as a monitoring tool that will track the profile of the virus and its presence on our campus by testing a portion of all students, faculty, and staff each week.

Beginning March 14, masks will be optional in most University spaces. Masks will continue to be required at McCosh Health Center and on TigerTransit buses, and for people who are instructed to wear a mask as part of isolation or quarantine protocols or were identified as a close contact. In addition, faculty and staff members who are conveners of classes, labs, gatherings, or meetings may require attendees to wear masks.

Following spring break, we will implement a testing-in protocol for undergraduates. All undergraduates will be required to submit a test within 24 hours of returning to campus, or within 24 hours of March 14 for those undergraduates who have remained on campus during break, and to wear a mask until they have received a negative test result.  (Undergraduates receiving a positive test result will receive isolation and masking instructions.)

As always, faculty and staff are expected to stay home when they are sick. Students experiencing COVID-like symptoms should contact the McCosh Health Center. 

These changes to our masking policy and asymptomatic testing program align with the CDC’s criteria to mitigate against severe disease and high demand on area hospitals, as well as the University’s objective to mitigate against significant disruptions to our core operations. These are the criteria that will guide us in our decisions about whether to increase or decrease mitigations on campus in the future.

We expect many of you will have questions and want more details about these changes. We are in the process of arranging town hall meetings, as we have done in the past, and will be in touch soon with more details.

We thank you for your continuing contributions to our safe and lively campus.

Sincerely,

Debbie Prentice, Provost

Treby Williams, Executive Vice President