College and university mask requirements for fall 2021 semester

School Updates

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(WPRI) — With new federal guidance recommending people in areas of substantial or high transmission of the coronavirus mask up indoors, regardless of vaccination status, colleges and universities are announcing changes in policy for the upcoming fall semester.

In July, Rhode Island became the first state in the nation where all public and private colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campus.

Below, 12 News has compiled the available resources from Southern New England schools including COVID-19 reopening plans, vaccine requirements and the latest updates from school officials:

Bridgewater State University

An update to the campus community on July 28 stated, “Effective immediately, and in an abundance of caution, we are encouraging all members of our community (including vaccinated members) to wear a mask in indoor settings on campus. If you are unvaccinated, in accordance with the CDC guidelines, you should always wear a mask in indoor public places.”

The university also has a vaccine requirement in place, noting that “all students who are attending in-person classes, living in residence halls, conducting research on campus and participating in any on-campus activities are required to become fully inoculated with an approved COVID-19 vaccine prior to the start of the academic year on Sept. 1, 2021, or their arrival on campus.”

Brown University

A message to the community on Aug. 3 stated, “…effective immediately we are reinstituting the requirement that all individuals – regardless of vaccination status – must wear masks indoors, unless in a private, non-shared space (e.g., office or dorm room) or when actively eating. In addition, social distancing of at least three feet must be maintained when unmasked. Unvaccinated individuals must continue to wear a mask outdoors when social distancing of at least three feet is not possible.”

The university said it would provide guidance regarding mask-wearing by instructors in classrooms as it gets closer to the first day of classes on Sept. 8.

Bryant University

A memo with policies for student COVID-19 vaccinations and masking for the fall 2021 semester went out to the campus community on June 29, stating that students and employees who are not fully vaccinated or have chosen not to be vaccinated will continue to be required to wear a mask on campus when indoors or outdoors in crowded settings where they are less than three feet apart from others.

However, the university noted these and other public health policies are subject to change with R.I. Department of Health and CDC requirements.


The college’s mask guidance states employees, students and visitors are required to wear a mask at all times when on campus, regardless of vaccination status. The college says there are exceptions, including while at a “workstation/private office that is in an enclosed space or when eating/drinking.”

Johnson & Wales University

The university has not said outright that masks are required regardless of vaccination status, but cited CDC guidance and said in a July 27 update to its Providence campus, “All persons should continue to wear a mask where required by laws, rules, regulations, or local guidance.”

Providence College

The college last updated its mask guidance in a message to the community on June 2, stating “only unvaccinated people are required to wear masks inside Providence College buildings” and that masks are optional inside buildings for those who are fully vaccinated.

A July 29 message from the college’s president, Rev. Kenneth R. Sicard, told students and parents about preparations for the fall semester, noting the “recent outbreaks of the Delta variant leading to hospitalizations and deaths among unvaccinated individuals, including those in younger age groups.”

Sicard said the college would “continue to monitor these developments and, as necessary, will modify plans for the fall semester to ensure the safety of the members of our campus community and their families.”

Rhode Island College

Guidance on RIC’s COVID-19 Health and Safety page states face coverings are required in all campus locations unless an exception applies. (i.e., underlying health condition or an ADA accommodation has been made)

It’s not clear if RIC’s guidance was updated prior to the availability of vaccines, but the college noted on its COVID-19 Mitigation Guidance page for summer 2021 “as of Monday, May 17, masks are required indoors and outdoors if less than 3’ spacing.”

Rhode Island School of Design

According to RISD’s Planning Report AY 2021-22 published in April 2021, the school said its guidance on face coverings and masks outlined for the past year will remain in place:

  • All RISD community members must wear cloth face coverings in public places where social distancing is not possible, including both indoor and outdoor spaces.
  • Exceptions include children under the age of 2 and those unable to wear a face covering due to a medical condition, per state guidelines.
  • Custodial and dining staff must wear cloth face coverings and nitrile gloves or food service type gloves as required by CDC.

RISD has said it is simultaneously planning for two possible fall scenarios — Near Normal and Vaccine Failure — to inform planning and preparations. RISD said it would plan to announce more details about the “Near Normal” scenario later in August.

Roger Williams University

The university last updated its Health & Safety Protocols page in January 2021, before vaccines were widely available. At the time, the university stated it “requires face coverings to be worn in all campus spaces, especially in classrooms and in public spaces where individuals may be closer than 6 feet physical distancing.”

Salve Regina University

In a July 30 message to the campus community, students were advised to arrive with a supply of masks regardless of vaccination status, since masks are required in some settings, like public transportation.

The university’s latest guidance states “masks and social distancing are not required while indoors or outdoors on campus for members of the Salve Regina community who are fully vaccinated.” Those who are not fully vaccinated “must continue to wear a mask indoors and within three feet of others outdoors, and practice social distancing around others.”

UMass Dartmouth

The university’s Fall 2021 Semester Plan says face coverings will be not required on campus for those who are fully vaccinated, but notes Massachusetts guidance still requires face coverings to be worn in some settings, including public transportation and health and child care centers.

The plan states “students, faculty, and staff will still be required to wear face coverings while using campus shuttles, visiting Health Services or the Counseling Center.”

UMass Dartmouth is also requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for all undergraduate and graduate students who wish to live, learn, or physically come to campus before the start of the fall semester. The university does not require, but “strongly encourages and recommends” all faculty and staff be fully vaccinated before the start of the semester.

University of Rhode Island

The university’s face coverings guidance was last updated on June 29, which stated “as of May 21, 2021, individuals who are fully vaccinated are no longer required to wear face coverings on campus except for specific locations,” and “individuals who are not fully vaccinated must wear face coverings when indoors,” with some exceptions.

Wheaton College

The college announced on Aug. 2 that beginning Aug. 9, all persons on campus will be required to wear a mask or face covering in any indoor space, regardless of their vaccinated status.

The college added “masks are not required to be worn in private residence hall rooms when the residents of the room are present, or while actively bathing or eating.”

The college says in addition to all students being vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campus, all Wheaton College faculty, staff, and volunteers who access campus must be vaccinated and must provide their vaccination documentation by Aug. 31.

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