Heeding CDC guidance, top universities require masks as Delta variant surges

In COVID-19 releases, institutions are also pushing vaccines.
By: | July 29, 2021
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Seizing on new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that all individuals should again wear masks indoors, several top colleges and universities have begun implementing their own policies.

Duke University, the University of Memphis and Nevada’s public institutions announced they will be requiring that their students, staff and faculty be masked starting Friday to prevent potential spread of COVID-19 and the surging Delta variant.

“While we know this is a disappointing turn, we make this move now based on the latest recommendations from the CDC and Duke’s own infectious disease experts in hopes of containing potential outbreaks that may limit our ability to continue other activities during the fall semester,” Provost Sally Kornbluth and Vice President of Administration Kyle Cavanaugh wrote to the community, referencing that more than 1,000 North Carolina citizens were hospitalized with the virus earlier this week. “We are eager to see a more active and dynamic campus this year. But the pandemic is still with us, and we must take appropriate steps to promote the safety and well-being of our community in the midst of this resurgence.”

The University of Memphis requirement is notable given that it cannot mandate vaccines because of a state ban on publicly funded institutions seeking “passports” from its campus populations. The university says masks will be needed “while indoors and in places where maintaining appropriate social distancing is not possible.”

Following the lead of a state mandate on masks, all of those coming to campuses at Nevada’s public colleges and universities will need masks. That includes those in the dense Clark County area: the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the College of Southern Nevada and Nevada State College.

While institutions such as McNeese State University in Louisiana, which is experiencing some of the highest COVID spikes in the nation, just installed its mask mandate, others are simply continuing their policies that called for wearing them indoors on campuses. Some had relaxed those rules for fully vaccinated individuals but are reversing them to follow CDC guidance.

Illinois State University in its mask mandate release also took the opportunity to push its community to get vaccinated. A tracker from the Mayo Clinic shows that college-age students are lagging in getting doses, a key to reopening strategies, with only 43% of 18-to-24-year-olds nationwide having completed COVID-19 vaccine schedules. “Vaccination is the best path forward,” Illinois State University President Terri Goss Kinzy said. “As a biomedical scientist who for decades has studied aspects of the process underlying the new COVID vaccines, I support the scientific evidence that COVID vaccination is the most effective strategy to keeping our community healthy.”

Masks are also an important deterrent in mitigating the spread of coronavirus. It is important that institutions, whether they mandate or not, continue to provide guidance from public health experts on which masks are most effective and how they should be worn, since the Delta variant is more easily transmissable.