Although the incidence of Covid-19 has once again begun to slowly increase in many parts of the nation, a number of colleges and universities are lifting their campus mask mandates or announcing an intention to do so soon.
On Monday, University of Tennessee (UT) President Randy Boyd said that the UT System would remove its mask mandate immediately. Citing the fact that Tennessee Governor Bill Lee had signed a bit that precludes state entities from having mask or vaccine mandates unless exempted from the law by the State Comptroller when federal funding is at risk, Boyd wrote “Accordingly, we are lifting mask requirements across the UT System effective immediately.”
Several other institutions in Tennessee that are not part of the UT system have announced similar decisions in recent days. They include Austin Peay State University, and Middle Tennessee State University.
Auburn University has indicated that it will no longer require facial coverings in most buildings for fully vaccinated individuals starting on Monday, Nov. 15.
Masks will still be required at Auburn, regardless of vaccination status, for individuals in health care settings, and faculty members may still require all individuals to continue wearing facial coverings during their classes, provided a facial covering requirement was included in the course syllabus.
The University of Alabama had ended its mask mandate earlier, announcing that with a few exceptions, fully vaccinated people would no longer be required to wear masks in most of its campus facilities, beginning Nov. 5.
Several universities have decided to end their mask mandates after the end of the semester or at the beginning of next semester. For example, Coastal Carolina University’s Board of Trustees voted to keep an on-campus mask mandate in place through the end of the semester and then end it on Dec. 13. University President Michael Benson had recommended an extension, telling the trustees, “the fact we’ve made it this far in the classroom and kept face-to-face instruction is critical. It has been part of the success we’ve seen in our retention numbers.”
Princeton University announced last week that it will reconsider, and may relax, its mask mandate, but any change would come at least ten days after Thanksgiving break, after fall classes would have been completed.
Purdue University also recently announced that it may lift a mask mandate in many indoor spaces by the beginning of February. The decision will depend, according to Purdue Health Center’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Esteban Ramirez, on Covid-19 metrics on campus and in the community as the second semester begins.
While some major institutions – like the University of Missouri – had ended their mask mandates as early as October, most colleges are still keeping the requirement in place at least for the time being. Others are announcing a “wait-and-see” position, offering faculty, staff and students the reassurance that masking will still be required throughout the current semester, while at the same time introducing the hope that mandates could be lifted by the time the next semester begins, if transmission rates remain low.