University VP sponsors bill to limit future mask requirements at universities

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Kate Hickman contributed to this report.

During May’s special session of the Utah Legislature, UVU vice president Val Peterson sponsored a bill that restricts state universities from requiring masks and COVID-19 vaccinations as a prerequisite for attending in-person classes.

After passing in the House and Senate, HB 1007 was signed by Gov. Spencer Cox and made law on May 28. The bill went into effect following the 2021 spring semester. 

As outlined in HB 1007, “An institution of higher education … may not require an individual to wear a face covering to attend or participate in in-person instruction, institution-sponsored athletics, institution-sponsored extracurricular activities, in dormitories, or in any other place on a campus of an institution within the system of higher education.” 

This bill also prevents universities from requiring students to be vaccinated, or show proof of vaccination in order to participate in any of the above listed activities. 

Over the past few months there have been a series of events that illustrate the growing urgency to have things back to normal — referring to conditions prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, a recent bill passed by the Utah Legislature in March, SB 107, required that universities offer 75% of their classes in person over the 2021-22 academic year. 

As vaccination counts increase, society is beginning to reemerge and HB 1007 is supporting that trend.

“Since masks don’t hurt anyone, I don’t see the point,” said one student of the new law.  “Universities should have the right to decide this.” 

In addition to his role as vice president of finance and administration at UVU, Peterson is also a Republican Representative for District 59, covering most of Orem, Lindon and Vineyard.

Peterson did not respond to a request for comment.

In spite of ever-present pandemic fatigue, justification for the safety precautions of the past two years is unforgettable. Thus, the reemergence brings with it difficult decisions for many.

“Masks can protect some of our vulnerable faculty members,” said one university employee, adding that having so many in-person classes with no mask enforcement “can leave them with a really hard choice.

“It’s a shame that it’s been so politicized.”

As students and faculty return to campus, they can expect to see classrooms full of unmasked faces and a steady creep back to normal.