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Dean's Blog: A new dawn and a new day

Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm

As we move past mask requirements on Mason’s campus, I can’t help but review in my mind the journey our college community has completed, thus far, to address the COVID-19 global pandemic. Let’s just take a moment to reflect on how important a milestone this is. On Friday, March 4, 2022, a little less than two years since COVID-19 changed our campus as we knew it, President Washington sent a message that Mason is at Mask Level Yellow. The arrival at this new level means that “effective immediately, masks are optional at Mason, except in classrooms and class labs during scheduled classes and or/lab activity,” (with other minor and targeted exceptions).

Granted, if one is more comfortable wearing a mask on campus, the face Coverings page of the website notes, “feel free to continue.” In addition, the new CDC guidance means Mason will not have a mask requirement for events with 50+ attendees unless event organizers specifically require it which means, for the first time in two years, this spring we will have a traditional ceremony to honor our Mason Science graduates.

The transformational road to get to this point was significant. Yet this important milestone signifies the dawn of a new day. At this juncture, I can’t help but ask, ‘How are we feeling?’ Are we feeling good, or are we still just as concerned, if not even more so, for the health and safety of those we hold dear?

It’s important to recognize we are not all in the same place on this continuum. Some of us are still experiencing a roller coaster ride of emotions--pain, fear, joy, confusion, elation. At times both energized and exhausted. And as data has shown, the pandemic impacted our most vulnerable communities the hardest, which can add an additional layer of stress, pain, and confusion to our Mason Science students, staff, and faculty belonging to these historically marginalized populations.

I can tell you more than once, I’ve thought in my mind, ‘it’s so good to see someone’s smile again’ while passing them in the hallway. Yet now we can also better see when someone may be concerned due to carrying a heavy load. Just a reminder, all health plans offered at Mason to employees and their dependents have employee assistance programs (EAPs). Included in these EAPs are up to four sessions at no charge for such services as mental health, alcohol or drug abuse assessment, child or elder care, grief counseling and legal or financial services.

Like the mantra on our t-shirt decrees, we still have your back. And there are many resources to help you.

As we work together to define our ‘new normal,’ I encourage us to consider our opportunity to use this promising turning point as a way to grow closer together and collectively move forward. Still, let’s not forget all we have learned and experienced. 

Earlier this month, President Washington honored the Mason COVID-19 response team, many from our college, who worked tirelessly to establish and execute Mason’s COVID plans to test, vaccinate, and boost our campus population to keep Covid-19 cases to a minimum. We can’t say thank you enough.

Mason’s surveillance and diagnostic testing sites will remain open and available to any Mason community member who wishes to be tested. Mason also encourages you to get tested when needed, or when you feel you may have been exposed. And as always, Mason encourages us all to get up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccines and booster and to stay home if feeling sick.

That said, let’s look ahead. Now that we possess a better understanding of how to navigate in a post- COVID world, and we’ve leveraged the power of our innovative spirit, it’s time to acknowledge our science community’s collective success. I encourage you to mark your calendars and join me on May 21 when we honor members of this special graduating class who persevered through unimaginable circumstances on their quest for knowledge. We have much to celebrate!