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University of Missouri System will allow classroom mask mandate to expire Friday

By: - October 14, 2021 11:14 am
classic columns from side in summer framed by green; jesse dome view from cornell

The iconic columns on the University of Missouri-Columbia campus. (University of Missouri photo)

The University of Missouri System will allow a mask mandate for its four campuses to expire after Friday.

Last month, the Board of Curators extended a rule that face masks be worn in classrooms by a 5-4 vote. That policy was scheduled to end at the close of Friday, and a meeting notice had not been posted this week for the board to convene and renew the rule.

“The temporary indoor mask mandate that was enacted in July and extended in September helped us avoid a potential spike in cases at the beginning of the semester and relieved pressure on local hospitals,” UM System President Mun Choi said in a statement. “The requirements were never intended to be a permanent policy.”

Instead, Choi pointed to “vaccination, personal responsibility and continued vigilance” as what the system will rely on.  System campuses will comply with local public health requirements, and while masks won’t be required, they are still recommended in indoor spaces, especially where social distancing can’t be achieved, according to Thursday’s news release.

In an email from the University of Missouri Thursday notifying faculty and students of the change, the university still encouraged face masks be worn.

“We now ask that everyone, regardless of whether they are vaccinated, wear masks in all indoor spaces, especially when social distancing is not possible,” the email sent by the university’s incident command team read.

The decision to allow the mask rule to expire comes amid an uptick in cases since the University of Missouri’s homecoming game last weekend.

There have been 21 new student cases reported since Sunday, Oct. 10, according to MU’s dashboard.

As of Thursday, there are 29 active cases among students and 12 active cases among MU faculty and staff — only 9 fewer cases compared to the 50 among students and staff at MU when the Board of Curators extended the mask rule last month.

Nearly a month ago, MU saw a recent peak of infections on Sept. 17 when there were 57 active student cases. At that point, 117 students had completed quarantine. There were also eight active faculty cases at the time, and 40 had made it through quarantine.

In September 2020 before vaccines were available, there were more than 500 active cases on MU’s campus.

At the Board of Curators’ meeting last month, Choi said it “would be nearly impossible to enforce” different requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated students after Republican members of the board attempted to lift the requirements for anyone who has been vaccinated.

At the system’s Kansas City campus there were 23 active cases among students and staff, 11 cases at its St. Louis campus and 13 cases at its Rolla campus.

The decision to let the mask rule expire also follows recent calls from the MU Faculty Council to keep the requirement in place.

Last week, the elected council that represents faculty passed a resolution urging the Board of Curators to not only renew the mask policy, but also revise it to require face coverings not just in classrooms, but all indoor public spaces, like meeting rooms and hallways.

It also passed a second resolution calling for the Board of Curators to institute a vaccine mandate for all faculty, staff and students ahead of the Spring 2022 semester. It referred to the vaccine requirements adopted by MU Health Care for its staff as an example a university mandate could be modeled after.

Kate Trauth, the chair of the MU Faculty Council and a civil and environmental engineering associate professor, said Wednesday that without a mask mandate, faculty will have to assess what can be done to keep them as safe as possible.

“People would like to be as safe as they can, and different folks have different perspectives on what is as safe as we can be,” Trauth said.

Trauth said she anonymously surveyed one of her classes on whether they would continue to wear a mask if there is no mandate in place. Answers varied, “but it was very interesting, there was a group that said, ‘You know, if you asked me, I would wear a mask in your class,’” Trauth said.

The Board of Curators’ next scheduled meeting is Nov. 18 at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

This story has been updated since it was first published. The Independent’s Rudi Keller contributed to this story.

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Tessa Weinberg
Tessa Weinberg

Tessa Weinberg covers education, health care and the legislature. She previously covered the Missouri statehouse for The Kansas City Star and The Columbia Missourian, where her reporting into social media use by the governor prompted an investigation by the Attorney General’s office. She most recently covered state government in Texas for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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