JSU releases updated COVID-19 mask policy

Cocky receives his covid vaccine at the start of the 2021 fall semester. Photo courtesy of Matt Reynolds/JSU.

Abigail Harrison, News Editor

Earlier today, the university announced its new requirements for face coverings on campus.

The new policy will go into effect on Nov. 29, following Thanksgiving break. According to a statement released by the Office of the President, the updated mandate will still require students and faculty to wear a mask in the RMC, on campus transportation, and when preparing food. 

One major change to the mandate is that faculty and staff members now have discretion in requiring masks in their classrooms or meetings, according to the statement. This means maskless instruction is returning to campus, and many students are excited.

James Allen, sophomore at JSU, thinks the changes to the mask policy are reasonable and feels comfortable not wearing a mask on campus.

“I think it’s good that teachers are being allowed to make the mask decision in their classrooms,” Allen said. “If students feel comfortable without masks, then it’s good that they’re being allowed to make their own decisions, too.”

According to Chief Michael Barton, Director of Public Safety, the university established metrics at the beginning of the year for deciding COVID-19 safety procedures, and the factors that are considered include the increase or decrease in COVID-19 cases on campus, the increase or decrease in local hospitalizations, and the increase or decrease in COVID-19 deaths in the state.

The update comes at a time when COVID-19 is significantly improving in Jacksonville, according to Barton. 

“RIght now, we are seeing a marked decrease in all of those areas, a drastic mark decrease,” said Barton. “I think as of this morning we had two positive cases reported on our campus. The hospital has seven patients admitted with COVID-19, none in ICU or on the ventilator.”

Barton also said that the number of vaccinated individuals has significantly increased on campus, which is partially due to the vaccine incentive program that ended on Oct. 15. 

With the decrease in cases and increase in vaccination rates, the university feels comfortable in lowering the mask mandate, according to Barton. However, some people on campus do not feel the same.

One JSU faculty member, who wished to stay anonymous, said that they do not agree with the university’s decision and will still require masks in their classroom.

“Having a mandate that requires masking in some places but not others leads to inconsistent mask use, which in turn defeats the purpose of masking as a form of community health and community care,” said the faculty member.

They also expressed concern about the timing of the mask update because, according to the CDC, holiday gatherings increase the chances of contracting and spreading COVID-19.

“Students will be leaving campus for a full week for Thanksgiving before returning back to campus for finals, providing ample opportunity for them to contract COVID and then spread it to their peers and teachers during exams,” said the faculty member.

In the statement released by President Killingsworth, he encouraged students and faculty to practice safe measures during the Thanksgiving holiday such as getting vaccinated, avoiding crowded spaces, and not attending events if sick.

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