Fall semester started Aug. 23 with the majority of students back on campus. As per new mask legislation for universities state-wide, masks are not required on campus but Utah Valley University is asking unvaccinated students to wear their mask in the classroom. This is due to the high transmissibility of the delta variant.
“Masks are encouraged by the CDC, and we strongly recommend them on campus, especially in our classrooms,” said Wayne Vaught, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs, and Kyle Reyes, vice president of student affairs, in their most recent announcement about fall semester.
“I think it’s great to have the option to wear a mask or not. I have an autoimmune disease and I don’t wear a mask because I don’t like to,” said one UVU student. “There are options to go to school online, so if someone has a problem with people not wearing masks they can just stay home.”
The CDC said that the “Delta variant was more infectious and was leading to increased transmissibility when compared to other variants, even in vaccinated individuals.” This is because it is currently the predominant strain of the virus and it spreads faster than earlier forms of COVID-19.
“I think people should put it on,” said another student about the mask policy. “I think people should wear it and it should be required because not everyone is vaccinated. It keeps us all safe from the delta variant and it will make sure that we can still have face-to-face classes and events in the future.”
“I understand why UVU would like to be a mask friendly campus, but it’s alarming to see how many students are walking around campus without a mask like everything is back to normal,” said a faculty member at UVU. They expressed their concern for future on-campus learning if the virus continues to spread at high rates.
“Everyone has a choice to put on a mask and get vaccinated but if we don’t wear the mask and get vaccinated then it will make it hard for things to go back to how they used to be before the lockdown,” said another faculty member. “I have kids, so I wear a mask to keep them safe.”
In July, Utah averaged three COVID-19 deaths per day. That number rose to five in August according to the Utah Department of Health (UDOH). “Deaths reported by UDOH include confirmed and probable cases as defined by the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) case definition.” The state as a whole has had 2,584 coronavirus deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
On Aug. 23, the FDA formally approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, upgrading it from the previous “emergency use” authorization status. Pfizer is the first COVID-19 vaccine to receive full approval. Reporting for NPR, Scott Hensley wrote, “The full approval could make it easier for employers, the military and universities to mandate vaccination and may reassure some people who are hesitant about the vaccine.” The formal vaccine authorization does not extend to children under the age of 16. For more information on the science behind the new vaccines, see this article.
UVU is offering free COVID-19 testing and vaccination for students, staff and faculty. These services are located on the second floor of the Sorensen Student Center, across from Student Health Services. They also have a list of protective measures you can take to protect yourself and stay safe on campus:
- Avoid shaking hands. Use an elbow bump instead.
- Avoid touching your face.
- Wash your hands frequently with antibacterial soap for 10-20 seconds.
- Use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content when you have been in contact with other people.
- Use disinfectant wipes at stores where available. Wipe the handles of grocery carts.
- Get an appropriate amount of sleep.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Eat healthy food.
- Stay home if you become ill (fever, cough, and body aches).
- Cough or sneeze into a disposable tissue and discard it, or cough or sneeze against your arm (not into your hands) if you don’t have a tissue.
- Seek medical treatment if necessary.
UVU has a list of frequently asked questions where they have more information about what students should do if they get COVID-19, including resources with tips on how to manage financial hardship that is COVID-19-related.