Mask policy sees updates

Mask policy sees updates
Students Haley McMahon, Sydney van Gerrevink and Alex Looyenga wear masks while in class. Photo by Camryn Hay.

Next Monday, Feb. 28, vaccinated Augustana students and faculty will no longer be required to wear masks indoors.

On Monday, Feb. 22, President Stephanie Herseth Sandlin sent an email to students which updated the indoor-masking protocol.

Though vaccinated individuals are no longer required to wear masks indoors, professors and other faculty members can request mask usage in classrooms and other close environments.

“It’s imperative that we respect all decisions and not compare, judge, or make assumptions about why a member of the faculty or staff may require indoor masking in his or her environment,” Herseth Sandlin said in the email.

Augustana is requiring students and faculty to report their booster shot, but just the first two doses are needed to unmask. No protocol has been determined for how vaccination status will be verified.

According to the state Department of Health, Minnehaha county has 926 active cases as of Thursday, Feb. 24. For vaccination rates, 58% of South Dakotans have received a complete vaccine series and 31% have received a booster.

Between students and staff, Augustana currently has one individual with a positive COVID-19 case.

Currently, 84.5% of the Augustana community has completed the first vaccination series. About 17% of the community has received a booster shot.

According to Rick Tupper, associate vice president for Campus Safety and logistics, if students still feel as though they should wear a mask, they can.

“My role all along was to monitor and provide information to the campus so that we can better protect us,” Tupper said. “We want to take all of campus into account. We want to make sure that we can stay in person and keep people healthy.”

ASA president Courtney Chrystal said she wasn’t informed about the changes in mask policy before the email was sent to students.

“It was so surprising to me that at no point were we consulted because my job as an advocate for students is to think of the ones that administration doesn’t typically think of,” Chrystal said.

Chrystal said she worries the language in the email wasn’t clear enough to students.

“I think that there’s a little bit that’s lost when it is translated to students,” Chrystal said. “So I felt pretty ill-equipped to help people understand both what was happening and what it was specifically going to look like for them, which is not a great place to be.”

Junior Jakota Hernandez said she is okay with changing the mask mandate.

“I feel like we have kept the number of cases relatively low as well as the vaccine numbers high, so I believe it is a reasonable next step,” Hernandez said. “Of course I believe cases still need to be watched incase of a spike, but for now I think it’s okay.”

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