Vandalism, above and below right, at Carmichael gym at N.C. State. (N.C. State photos)

Gov. Roy Cooper has recommended schools and local governments transition from mask mandates to a mask-optional policies, and counties and towns across North Carolina are heeding the governor.

With the increasing adoption of the mask-optional policy, University of North Carolina System President Peter Hans decided to follow the trend and published a memo on Feb. 25. In it, Hans asks UNC chancellors to begin the transition to the mask-optional policy in all campus indoor settings no later than Monday, March 7. Hans cites the revised policy recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as from Cooper.

Hans encouraged those who feel more comfortable with a mask to keep wearing it.

“Any individual who wishes to continue to wear a face-covering is encouraged to do so, especially those who are at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19.”

As president of the UNC System, Hans hasn’t given a COVID-19 policy revision since August, over six months ago.

On the same day as Wake County’s announcement lifting its mask mandate, Wake Technical Community College announced that mask coverings would no longer be required indoors effective 5 p.m. Feb. 25.

N.C. State University administration sent an email Feb. 22 to members of the N.C. State community. With this update, the administration stated that masks “will not be required in most indoor spaces on campus.” However, masks continue to be required in classrooms.

Up until this point, students were told to wear masks even when alone in indoor settings on campus, while faculty and staff haven’t had to wear a mask in office spaces when they are alone. This has been the case since before omicron.

On Feb. 20, The Free Pack broke news that N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson wasn’t wearing a mask during the men’s basketball game at PNC Arena on Feb. 9. This was in violation of arena, city, and countywide mask mandates in place at the time.

A day later, after the N.C. State update, someone spray painted “we are not safe” on the glass doors of Carmichael gym at N.C. State’s main campus, in addition to spray painting “bombs away” on a nearby stone block.

In an email exchange with Carolina Journal, a spokesperson from N.C. State said a suspect in the vandalism was a white male, who was seen on security footage during the act.

Campus police are still investigating the incident. They do not yet have a suspect in custody.

While some resort to violence, others make their voices heard peacefully.

A group of N.C. State students were planning to protest the mask mandate on March 1. In a column for The Free Pack, Braxton White wrote the students planned to protest to “demand that our semester return to what it ought to be: classrooms filled with unmasked, visible faces.”

But a day before the planned protest, N.C. State announced that mask wearing would become optional in classrooms effective Monday, March 7. The university cited Hans’ memo for its decision, and the protest was called off.

Since the publication of the memo, many if not most UNC universities have agreed to the request of transitioning to mask-optional by Monday. Other UNC campuses, such as UNC Chapel Hill, UNC Charlotte, and UNC Asheville, have recently declared a transition to mask-optional, particularly in classrooms in the coming days.

Certain private universities, such as Duke, have not updated their mask mandates. As of March 3, Duke University still requires its community to continue mask-wearing in most indoor settings.

William Peace University relaxed its mask-wearing restrictions on Feb. 22, but has yet to announce if it will lift the mask mandate for classrooms.

Unlike Peace, Meredith College announced March 2 that mask wearing will become optional in most classrooms on March 21. This is significantly later compared to the March 7 date, when most UNC universities won’t require mask wearing in classrooms.

Similarly, the Campbell University Law School announced on Feb. 25 that masks will no longer be mandatory in classrooms, effective the same day as the announcement.

Lauri Salovaara is an intern for Carolina Journal and a senior at N.C. State University studying public policy.