Some staff and faculty have expressed their opinions, from disappointment to concern, about the relaxation of mask requirements at certain locations on campus.
Staff and faculty are reacting to changes to the University of Minnesota’s COVID-19 policy, with most communicating unease about the lifting of masking requirements at select locations on campus that went into effect March 21.
Although masks are still needed in classrooms, public transport and healthcare facilities, staff and faculty have expressed concern about changing mask requirements in offices and crowded public spaces on the campus. In a campus-wide email sent March 11 announcing the update, President Joan Gabel said the change is consistent with public health recommendations from the Minnesota Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control. and Prevention regarding masking.
The city of Minneapolis lifted its mask mandate on Feb. 24, and other universities in the region have eased restrictions as COVID-19 cases recently declined.
“Individuals may continue to wear masks anytime, anywhere for personal protection reasons,” Gabel said in the email. “We will continue to respect and honor the choices of all people who feel more comfortable wearing a mask.”
This is not the first time that staff and faculty have expressed concern over the University’s response to COVID-19. In October 2021, University staff and faculty sent a formal resolution to the administration asking for increased COVID-19 protocols, including stricter masking requirements.
“I’m disappointed,” said Ruth Shaw, professor of ecology, evolution and behavior. “I haven’t seen a clear rationale for the changes…It puts many people and our wider community at much greater risk than makes sense.”
While Shaw said these changes weren’t a direct threat to her health because she could avoid areas where masks are no longer needed, she added that she’s worried about those who don’t have that flexibility, like people who need to work and eat out. halls.
“For my personal status, I’m not very worried, but I’m worried for many other people and for our community and of course, as our community experiences greater COVID, each of us is individually more at risk,” said said Shaw.
Cherrene Horazuk, administrative and clerical specialist at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and president of UMN’s American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3800, said her largest concern was for spaces open to the general public on campus and office spaces.
“We have heard from many office workers and other technical workers and other support staff who are part of AFSCME who have real concerns about how the [masking] the rules are set,” Horazuk said. “There are clear protections in place in the classroom, but not in offices or public spaces.”
Amanda Greenhart is the Main Office and Administration Specialist and Treasurer of AFSCME Local 3800 who works out of a clinic on campus. She said having masks required in some indoor areas but not others on campus was confusing.
“We still get a lot of people who pass by without a mask and then I have to say, ‘Hi, can I get you a mask? ‘” Greenhart said. “People don’t like that.”
Some staff and faculty said they were happy with how the University communicated the decision-making process that led to this announcement, while others said they weren’t.
“I think it’s a failure of leadership when we don’t just say ‘this is the rule and we’re all going to do it,'” Greenhart said. “When we say ‘Oh, if you feel comfortable, then do it’, it’s not as effective.”
Sumanth Gopinath, an associate professor of music theory, said he hoped to see a more cautious approach to protecting vulnerable members of the campus community. Gopinath is on sabbatical this year, but has been on campus throughout the pandemic and will return in the fall.
“Masking seems like a relatively easy thing for most people to do and I’m glad they’re keeping it in classrooms,” Gopinath said.
Gopinath said he thinks it would have made more sense to continue requiring masks in all areas until the end of the semester.
Cynthia Lee, clerical and administrative specialist and chair of local health and safety committee 3800 AFSCME, said in an email that she believes masking and distancing is still the most effective way to control the spread of the virus. COVID-19 on campus.
Lee also said she fears the new BA.2 Omicron variant will spread with the looser masking requirements in place.
“You can’t put science aside,” Lee said. “That’s why this public health crisis continues to drag on…with more [people] stuck with lifelong health issues due to long COVID and post-COVID.
Since the University campus is open to the general public, relaxing mask requirements could pose a greater risk, Horazuk said.
“To think that we can be safe, without there being more rigorous masking protocols, I think ignores the reality that we are in a large urban environment,” Horazuk said. “It’s not closed. The University is part of a much bigger community with a lot of people on campus for various reasons, and that’s worrying for people.