Ohio Wesleyan removed its facial covering requirement for students and faculty on February 28.
The change was announced through an email from President Rock Jones, who cited guidance from the CDC and Delaware Public Health District as justification for this decision.
Dwayne Todd, OWU’s Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Engagement adds that his change was informed by both actors, as well as the low viral rate of COVID in Delaware County. He also cites the campus’s very high vaccination and booster shot rate as an extra layer of confidence in OWU's ability to go without masks safely.
“We felt like we were in a really good position now to let people have a more normal experience on campus”, explained Todd.
One qualification in lifting the requirement is that individual faculty members may set their own policy for mask wearing in their classrooms as they see fit. This parameter was put into place to account for the fact that not all classrooms on campus have the same degree of social distancing and air circulation possible.
The administration wanted to make sure that professors were able to teach in an environment where they are confident in the safety of themselves and their students.
“We want everyone in class to feel like they are safe there, physically and medically, or learning cannot happen effectively. That’s our central mission, learning” said Todd.
Another consideration in making this decision was the input from the faculty. Professors were polled about the change in protocol, and over 60 percent agreed that it was time to loosen the mask requirement. More than 70 percent also expressed their belief that faculty should be able to set policies for their individual classes, according to Todd.
Other substantial changes that were made to the COVID policies on campus was the removal of the 100-person limit on indoor gatherings. Food is also now allowed to be served at such events without restrictions.
In pursuit of controlling cases, the Student Health Center will continue to test symptomatic students on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Students can email or call the office to schedule an appointment for a test if they are experiencing symptoms. Todd also added that there are at-home tests available as well, so students may test themselves if the Student Health Center is unable to do so.
Quarantine procedures will also be different going forward, with the isolation period being shortened. There are currently no students in isolation on campus, as those that have tested positive are rare and often opt to quarantine at their homes. However, there remain to be locations on campus that are able to house isolated students.
Students who have been quarantined so far this semester hope that this change will allow for a safe and efficient return to campus, as some have expressed frustration with the process. Students have shared their experiences, which include fast changes in rules that cause confusion about how they should behave.
Senior General Zoology and Communication major Sydni Simpson was in isolation during a shift in protocols, leading to her quarantine period being lengthened.
“Up until January 28th, students only had to remain in quarantine for five days, then were released into the school. After January 28th, the protocol changed… we were sent an email saying that we needed to test after being in quarantine for five days. None of us really knew what was going on, and I was personally very confused because I knew people who had COVID-19 often tested positive months after contracting the virus,” she said.
“The rule was that if you tested positive after those five days, you had to be kept in quarantine for another five days. Many of the other students that were on the floor with me also tested positive along with me. They were able to take tests a couple more days after they received the positive test result and were able to get out. I chose to not take another test and instead remained in quarantine for another five days,” she adds.
Simpson commends university employees like Dwayne Todd for their availability to helpfully answer questions during the time of shifting protocols, but also hopes for more transparency and explanation of changing policies for students in quarantine going forward.
Despite this relaxation of restrictions the administration would like to stress that COVID is still a real threat, and people should continue to be careful.
“We think we’re in a safe place to reduce some of these restrictions, but COVID’s not gone. It’s really important for students to remember to be careful… Make good choices because if numbers go up again, we’ll have to go back to some restrictions… I don’t want students thinking this is all over and we just live life as normal again… You gotta still keep an eye on good safety practices.” said Todd.