WSU, UI offer differing approaches to removing mask mandates

UI allowing instructors to require masks in individual classrooms; WSU to still require vaccines for students attending

Masked+students+study+in+the+Compton+Union+Building+on+Feb.+22.

ANISSA CHAK | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE

Masked students study in the Compton Union Building on Feb. 22.

ALEXANDRIA OSBORNE, Evergreen reporter, columnist, copy editor

Even though WSU has to wait a few more days to go maskless, our neighbors at University of Idaho have had the option to remain maskless since March 1.

As of March 12, masks will not be required indoors on campus, said Phil Weiler, WSU vice president of marketing and communications. 

Weiler said even though masks will not be required after Saturday, people will still have the option to wear them if they feel more comfortable doing so.

However, Weiler said individual facilities like public transportation and Cougar Health Services will still require masks because of the close proximity between individuals, with CHS having a number of sick people using their services. 

Even though UI went mask-optional, faculty or instructors still have the ability to make masks a requirement for a specific class if they see fit, said Jodi Walker, UI senior communications director. Similar to CHS, masks are still required at the Vandal Health Clinic.

“We’re only a week and a half in,” Walker said. “What we’re seeing so far is no significant increase in, say, people coming to pick up free [COVID-19] tests or people reporting that they have tested positive. We have not seen that, but we’re definitely keeping an eye on it.”

WSU instructors will not have the option to require masks in their classes because administrators are hoping to implement a uniform approach across campus, Weiler said. The only exceptions are classes that require masks as part of safety protocols or any clinical courses.

Weiler said public officials seem confident we are at a positive point moving forward in the pandemic. 

“Hopefully, we are moving from the pandemic stage of COVID-19 and moving to what’s called an endemic stage,” he said. “An endemic illness is something that is going to be with us forever.”

COVID-19 will likely follow the same patterns as the flu, where a new strain comes out each year, Weiler said. 

Walker said the response she has seen toward having a mask-optional school setting has been positive — people are happy to have that choice. 

There has not been a negative reaction toward removing the mask mandate, as well as the courses that will still require masks in the classroom, she said. 

Spring break for both universities starts Monday, and neither Weiler nor Walker are worried about COVID-19 cases rising as students return to campus. 

Walker said UI will keep an eye out for a rise in COVID-19 cases when students return to campus and will also keep an eye on areas of the state many students are going home to. 

“We continue to work with Idaho Public Health and Medical Center to see what they’re seeing. They share with us what’s happening through their lens,” she said. “We’ll just handle that as everyone comes back and keep an eye on it and hope we don’t see a rise.”

WSU required students to have COVID-19 vaccinations to attend school this year; this rule will remain after the mask mandates get lifted. Because of this, over 90% of students are fully vaccinated, and many are boosted, Weiler said. 

“A lot of people have contracted COVID in one form or another,” he said. “Between having a large number of people who have already gotten sick coupled with the high vaccination rate that we have on campus, I think that we’re not expecting to see spikes in infections after spring break.”