JSU updates mask policy for fourth time this academic year

JSU student, Abby Swearinger, wears her mask while doing homework in Merrill Hall. Photo courtesy of Anna Barrett.

Abigail Harrison, News Editor
Anna Barrett, Correspondent

The university updated its mask mandate policy for the fourth time this academic year on Thursday as cases drop on-campus.

The new policy will go into effect on Feb. 12. According to the statement released by the Department of Public Safety, masks will be required in the RMC, on campus transportation and when preparing or serving food.

Mask requirements in all other settings, like classrooms and advising sessions, will be at the faculty’s discretion. Students and faculty are encouraged to still practice social distancing everywhere else, according to the statement. 

Abby Swearinger, freshman at JSU, said she feels as though the policy is reasonable and has no issue with the decision being up to professors. 

“I still think that we should because COVID is still a very real thing,” Swearinger said. “And I like that they’re leaving it up to the teachers because you could have a class of like five students in a classroom, and what’s the point? You can spread out.”

However, Swearinger said she feels more comfortable wearing a mask when in a crowded classroom.

Dr. Paul Hathaway, associate professor in the Department of Political Science, said he is confident in the university’s decision based on the data, but he is going to take the comfort of his students into consideration when deciding the mask requirement in his classrooms.

“If any student feels unsafe or needs a higher level of protection for their health, then I will require masks in my classrooms,” Hathaway said.

Another faculty member, who wished to stay anonymous, said they are not confident that data shows it is safe to lower the mask policy. They said they will require masks until the transmission rate is below 10% to protect the vulnerable members in the community. 

“While the rate of transmission is going down, I don’t think we’re quiet in the safe zone yet … Community transmission in the U.S. is still entirely high,” the faculty member said.

According to the CDC COVID data tracker, Calhoun County still has a high community transmission rate, and the website recommends all members of Calhoun County wear a mask while in indoor spaces.

Michael Barton, Director of Public Safety and COVID Task Force Leader, said the President and Cabinet made the decision to relax the mask policy after reviewing the established metrics for COVID safety procedures. 

Barton said the review “indicated a clear decline of campus cases over the past two weeks as well as local hospitalizations, and region and statewide trends.” According to the JSU COVID-19 dashboard, 17 cases were active on-campus as of Thursday.

Barton recommends for all members of the JSU community to continue to practice all necessary actions for protection against COVID. 

“It is also important, for those who are medically able, to receive the COVID-19 vaccination that is right for them to help reduce the effects that infection might have on their body and the impact on their family and friends,” Barton wrote in a statement.

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