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3/14/2022 - Optional Masking Outside of Instructional Spaces

To: The Caltech Community 

From: David A. Tirrell, Provost
Thomas F. Rosenbaum, President

Date: March 14, 2022

Re: Optional Masking Outside of Instructional Spaces

The Institute will no longer require the use of masks in indoor settings, with the exception of instructional spaces, effective March 17, 2022. This aligns Caltech with local public health directives and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and follows a sharp decline in COVID-19 cases on campus. Although we hope to extend this policy to instructional spaces during the spring term, timing will depend on case counts in Los Angeles County and on campus over the next several weeks. Details on the spring term instruction plan will be provided separately in advance of the start of the term on March 28.

Relaxation of our campus masking requirement comes in response to changes in a public-health landscape that has improved substantially in the last two months. Through the course of the winter term, there has been a significant drop in campus case numbers (see chart below), with average daily case counts in the low single digits in recent weeks. Nevertheless, we are continuing our surveillance testing program, and we are prepared to reinstate the Institute's masking requirement if case counts begin to rise.

A bar graph showing daily COVID-19 case numbers since January 4.
Credit: Caltech

This policy adjustment means that masks are no longer required in most indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status.

However, high-quality masks (including surgical masks or N95, KN95, or KF94 respirators) will continue to be required in the following situations:

  • If you have been exposed to a person who has tested positive for COVID-19. You must wear a well-fitting surgical mask or respirator for 10 days after exposure.
  • If you work in a setting that requires a high-quality mask for safety reasons, i.e. while dealing with hazardous materials.

If you are unsure whether you are required to wear a mask in a given situation, ask your supervisor or instructor, contact Human Resources, or email covid19@caltech.edu.

Please note that the use of masks in indoor public settings or in high-risk environments (especially for those at elevated risk for infection) is still strongly encouraged by health authorities as a measure to limit the spread of COVID-19. A recent CDC study shows that wearing a well-fitted high-quality mask (surgical or respirator) indoors can lower the wearer's likelihood of testing positive for COVID-19 by as much as 83 percent (with the use of a respirator) or 66 percent (with the use of a surgical mask). The decision to wear a mask is deeply personal. All members of the Caltech community who wish to continue to wear a mask are encouraged to do so, and the Institute will continue to make high-quality masks available through the Caltech Store.

Since early 2020, our community has adhered exceptionally well to protocols that protect the health and safety of all. Though we welcome signs of a return to normalcy, the memories of two turbulent years are still strong for many of us, and the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to impact our community and the rest of the world. We look forward to a successful spring term and hope that everyone will continue to show each other the respect and consideration that help make Caltech a welcoming and safe place to live and learn.