UCM Reinstates Campus-wide Mask Mandate

During+the+first+week+of+classes%2C+the+university+hosted+the+Involvement+Fair%2C+Career+Fair+and+other+student+activities.+Students+are+recommended+to+wear+masks+outside+and+masks+are+require+in+university+buildings.+We+dont+know+for+sure+whats+going+to+happen%2C+and+we+dont+want+to+be+caught+not+being+prepared%2C+so+were+trying+to+prepare+for+the+worst+because+theres+always+that+potential%2C+Interim+Health+Center+Director+Diana+Herman+said.+

Lauryn Morrow

During the first week of classes, the university hosted the Involvement Fair, Career Fair and other student activities. Students are recommended to wear masks outside and masks are require in university buildings. “We don’t know for sure what’s going to happen, and we don’t want to be caught not being prepared, so we’re trying to prepare for the worst because there’s always that potential,” Interim Health Center Director Diana Herman said.

By Matthew Goldsmith, University of Central Missouri

  After months without a campus-wide mask mandate for vaccinated individuals, the University of Central Missouri reinstated its mask mandate starting Aug. 16. The mandate came in response to the rapid increase of the Delta variant of COVID-19.

  UCM had been without a campus-wide mask mandate since May 20, a decision which coincided with the Centers for Disease Control’s revised guidance for face coverings for vaccinated individuals.

  The Delta variant hit Missouri hard this summer. Missouri’s weekly cases rose to around 20,000 in August after spending much of June below 5,000. Currently, Missouri is averaging 2,837 cases per day according to the Mayo Clinic.

  UCM President Roger Best said he spoke to other university presidents, medical professionals and the President’s Council before the mask mandate. He said the move-in process played a role in the institution of the mask mandate.

  “Even though vaccinated individuals are much less likely to get severely ill from the Delta variant, we thought it was prudent, with the population of students coming back in and a large number coming back in at once, to go ahead and reintroduce the mask requirement,” Best said.

  Best said low vaccination rates have also played a part in UCM returning to a mask mandate, while saying he understands that individuals have a choice to be vaccinated or not. He also acknowledged the frustration some members of the UCM community are feeling about the mandate.

  “I can certainly understand the disappointment and frustration because I feel equally disappointed that we find ourselves back here,” Best said.

  Interim Health Center Director Diana Herman said it is understood by health professionals that the Delta variant is more contagious than the initial strand and vaccinated, immunocompromised people are getting it, but most vaccinated people who have gotten the strand have not died or been hospitalized. However, she said there is still uncertainty surrounding the Delta variant and its effects.

  Herman said the University Health Center supported the campus-wide mask mandate, and she knows that the mandate will end when certain barriers are overcome.

  “When our percent positivity rate is down, when our percent vaccination rate is up and when our hospital bed availability is normalized again, we’ll go back to no masks,” Herman said. “We all want to go without masks, but for right now, to protect all the unvaccinated in particular, we need to be masked.”

  Herman said the UHC will offer both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines from 1-3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Students are required to schedule in advance to receive the vaccine.

  Amy Kiger, director of campus community health, said the UHC also has COVID-19 testing available from 1-2 p.m. every day, unless the UHC has a special event. 

  Kiger said if a student is quarantined because of a COVID-19 exposure or diagnosis, it is important they communicate with the health center for themselves and the campus as a whole.

  “The information we get from one student can help see trends also, not that we’re sharing their data with anybody, but it helps us just be able to understand what’s happening with the whole population,” Kiger said. 

  Heather Buckingham, senior educational studies and training major, said she is happy to be back in the classroom this fall, despite most of her classes being online. Buckingham, who works in the Office of Admissions, said COVID-19 has changed her work environment, but is optimistic about upcoming changes.

  “One thing that’s just been kind of hard is it’s harder to make connections with people,” Buckingham said. “The office has been just really different since COVID has happened, but we’re going to get back to bigger tours, which is exciting.”

  Skylar Curtis Deimeke, freshman aviation major, said he was initially against mask mandates, as he is from a small town. He said his experience in his hometown made coming to a school with a mask mandate a big change, but he said he now has a neutral opinion of UCM’s mask mandate.

  “The more I’m here, I’m kind of in the middle because I’m like ‘well, it’s beneficial because it keeps people calm,’ but I’m also looking at the science side of how come we don’t wear masks for other things,” Curtis Deimeke said.

This story was originally published on Muleskinner on August 27, 2021.