By Daniel Skutvik, Alyson Draper, Alyssa Wilson and Hunter Epperson
Masks will be required in all classroom settings and strongly encouraged indoors as of Wednesday, Aug. 11 at the University of Lynchburg.
President Alison Morrison-Shetlar and the University of Lynchburg COVID-19 Task Force made the announcement via email on Tuesday afternoon.
The email said, “With this change in policy, faculty have the authority to enforce the policy requiring all students to wear a mask in their classrooms or labs, and the University fully supports faculty in this enforcement. Similarly, faculty or staff meeting with students or colleagues in private offices or small conference spaces may ask attendees to wear masks.”
The announcement came as COVID cases in the Central Virginia region continue to rise as a result of the Delta and Lambda variants. This represents a change from the mask policy announced on Aug. 4 where it was strongly encouraged that all faculty, staff, and students wear masks indoors.
President Morrison- Shetlar reinforced in her email, “Please know that as of this week, we have vaccinated 91% of our student population and extended medical or religious exemptions to the remaining 9%; faculty and staff are 100% compliant with either a vaccination or an approved exemption; and there are currently no active cases of the virus on campus.”
There have been varying reactions across campus about the changes in the mask policy.
Junior psychology major, Caitlyn Freece said, “Personally I don’t mind the new policy. I would rather be able to stay here and keep everyone safe than risking people getting the virus, so if I can do a small part in keeping everyone safe by wearing a mask in the classroom, I can do that!”
Emma Coffey, a junior, said, “I’m honestly not surprised at it because more people should have gotten vaccinated if they can, but they won’t.”
Nursing major Emily Miller said, “Given the uptick in Delta and Lambda variant cases and the relatively low vaccination rate for the state, I’m not exactly surprised. We need to be cautious given that Liberty is nearby where vaccines are not mandated, and very few people have probably gotten them.”
“Honestly I’m kind of frustrated. I mean, safety wise, I’m totally fine but at the same time… I am not a fan of masks. I think it’s hard to hear others speak in class, it’s just kind of annoying, but safety wise I’m totally okay with it,” said first year Savannah Borroughs. “I think it would’ve been nice to know [before the school year started] especially with people getting vaccinated. I was going to get vaccinated anyways, but now I’ve heard some people [say] ‘I only got vaccinated because I wouldn’t have to wear a mask’.”
Burroughs indicated she did not know what the mask rules were prior to the new mandate. She said, “I saw papers on the windows and stuff that recommended it, but it’s not enforced.”
English professor, Dr. Chidsey Dickson said, ” After a year and half of masking, I personally feel no huge resistance to the mask mandate but I do think a number of faculty and students have real difficulty understanding what’s said in class. That’s a serious downside. I do wish I understood better why 10% of students have opted out of vaccines. Presumably, only 1% of those are medical exemptions, and so that leaves the other 9% being for “religious reasons.” Which religion disallows this public health measure of vaccines? If we had more like 99% of the Hive vaccinated, perhaps we wouldn’t need to go to masks just yet?”
Communication Studies professor, Dr. Jimmy Roux said, “While it may not be popular to wear masks, it would seem to be in the best interest of the campus community and a precaution that will allow us to still have class in person.”
Senior Ullunda Veal said, “Honestly, I kind of figured this was going to happen eventually. COVID definitely is not a one and done thing, especially considering the amount of deaths that have come from it. Anything to make sure we are in good health. While the masks can be annoying, I would rather be out of breath for a couple seconds than have long-lasting health effects.”
There are currently no confirmed positive cases among students, faculty and staff. For more information on the university’s Covid policy, visit: https://www.lynchburg.edu/about/covid-19/campus-updates/