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The Antelope

New mask mandate limited to classrooms, labs

Kosuke Yoshii / Antelope Staff Students, faculty, staff and visitors are required to wear masks in classrooms and labs.

A mask mandate began last week for UNK students, faculty, staff and visitors in labs and classrooms. The mandate does not apply to non-classroom settings, and it will end Oct. 6.

UNK’s Emergency Operations Team, as well as other faculty, recommended the mandate.  

“If we can slow the spread down for a couple of weeks, then that has a big impact,” Falconer said. “Also, we think we’re kind of going into a peak period. If we can implement more controls during this period, we reduce the number of people that get sick by the end period.”

The deadline is “subject to change if circumstances warrant,” according to the email from Todd Gottula, the senior director of Marketing and Communication.  

“We think it helps people if you can see the escape hatch at the end,” Falconer said.

As of Sept. 20,16 students and one staff member tested positive for COVID-19. The number dropped from the week prior, in which 33 students, two faculty and one staff member tested positive for COVID-19. 

Masks are required indoors as an effort to lessen the number of positive cases. Face coverings are “highly recommended,” especially for unvaccinated individuals.

Other places that are excluded from the mask mandate include the Calvin T. Ryan Library, Fine Arts Building performance areas, Health and Sports Center, Nebraskan Student Union and residence halls. UNK Employees can unmask during meetings outside of the classroom and while in their offices. 

While masks are not required outdoors, they are still highly recommended.

“This mask mandate won’t do a whole lot of difference unless, as a community, we say ‘We’re kind of tired of this’,” Falconer said. “So maybe we do the hard thing for a little bit, and then things get better.”

Faculty members pushed for the mask requirements since Sept. 9, when a petition was emailed in support of an indoor mask mandate.

“It is very strongly believed by the leadership of our union that UNK should be respecting the recommendations of the CDC and Two Rivers and the actions of our sister campuses that all made the decisions in line with that,” said William Aviles, President of the UNK Education Association faculty union.

The petition sparked what Aviles called an “email party of debate.” As a response, a counter petition was created. The mask-supporting petition was sent a second time on Sept. 14 — the same day the classroom and lab mandate was announced.

The original petition received 401 responses. Of these responses, 73 were incomplete, 171 were faculty members, 67 were staff members, 36 were alumni, 34 were community members and 20 identified as ‘other.’

More than 306 individuals responded to the counter petition. The responses were from 31 faculty members, 43 staff members, 209 students, 13 alumni, 8 members and 11 who identified as ‘other.’

Alongside masks, vaccinations are also highly recommended. The percentage of vaccinated individuals in UNK’s community is 68%. 

Two Rivers Health Department will be distributing the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines in the Nebraskan Student Union atrium from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Oct. 7 and 28.

Students can also call Student Health to schedule vaccination appointments.

“I know (masks) aren’t fun. I don’t like them either,” said Wendy Schardt, director of Student Health and Counseling. “And I’m hoping that this (mask mandate) eventually will turn the tide. That is my hope for COVID to end.”

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