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With a 'Mask Required to Enter' sign on the door, a student heads to class in Coates Hall as LSU has its first day of classes to begin the fall semester Monday August 23, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La.

LSU did an about-face Tuesday, declaring sufficient success in its fight against the coronavirus and dropping a mask mandate that had been in place since the early days of the pandemic.

"We get to see each other again," mass communication senior Melissa Kim said. "After months of seeing half-faces, we get to be expressive with each other again."

The school said it ditched the restriction under its medical advisory board's recommendation. As the news spread following the morning announcement, more and more face coverings came off. 

Various restrictions were in place since the pandemic ramped up in Louisiana in March 2020. Initially, the campus closed along with most other schools and universities, and when it reopened, administrators imposed mask mandates and set up other guidelines in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Roxanne Dill, a mass communication professor, emphasized the social and mental health benefits of uninhibited interaction. She teaches first-year students who'd only ever experienced a masked campus.

"It's time for them to see smiles in class," Dill said. "I don't know if it's just my imagination, but in the two hours since the news dropped, the collective demeanor is entirely different." 

Both Kim and Dill said they hoped people continue to wear masks or stay home from class if they feel sick. Ali Redmann, a junior studying animal sciences and French, agreed. 

"I know everyone is tired of COVID and the masks, but they are a brilliant tool for regulation disease in communities like LSU," Redmann said.

She added that she noticed fewer students catching other illnesses like a flu or cold while masks were required. 

The governor lifted the state's mask mandate at the end of October, leaving restrictions up to the discretion of individual businesses, schools and organizations. LSU President William F. Tate IV wrote an open letter to students, faculty and staff Tuesday extending the relaxed order across LSU's main campus.

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"Let me first say this would not be possible without the cooperation of the entire LSU community," Tate wrote. "The vast majority of you chose to be vaccinated in numbers rarely seen at other universities, and you were diligent in adhering to the protocols we put in place to ensure the health and safety of our university family."

He said restrictions could be imposed again if the virus flares up again and noted that active and passive testing will continue. He urged the campus community to be diligent during the upcoming holiday breaks and said health officials would continue monitoring to trace potential COVID hotspots.

"Quarantine protocols will remain unchanged, wastewater testing will remain in place and testing of unvaccinated individuals will continue." Tate said. 

The school's athletic department previously lifted many COVID-related restrictions, including proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test along with outdoor masking at football games in Tiger Stadium. Masks were still required in the stadium's indoor sections. 

At basketball games at Pete Maravich Assembly Center, masks were encouraged but not required, according to LSU Athletics.

Tuesday's decision to lift the mask mandate, Tate wrote, was made upon the recommendation from the school's health and medical advisory committee, which consists of medical doctors, epidemiologists, engineers and biomedical researchers from across the state.

He thanked the LSU community for getting vaccinated and being "diligent in adhering to protocols."

"I want to add that we are moving forward with confidence, but with caution," Tate wrote. "While we are encouraged by the low number of cases we have seen this fall, and the overall success of our COVID policies and protocols, the pandemic is still a fluid situation."

Read Tate's full letter to the LSU community.


Carlie Kollath Wells is a morning reporter at NOLA.com and The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate.