Manfred van Dulmen provides details on updated university mask mandate, Pandemic Leadership Committee decision

Kent+State+university+relaxed+its+mask+mandate+Thursday%2C+requiring+it+during+scheduled+classes%2C+labs+and+studios%2C+at+the+DeWeese+Health+Center%2C+on+PARTA+buses+in+the+Child+Development+Center+at+the+Kent+campus.+Masks+are+optional+at+all+other+campus+locations.+

Maddy Haberberger

Kent State university relaxed its mask mandate Thursday, requiring it during scheduled classes, labs and studios, at the DeWeese Health Center, on PARTA buses in the Child Development Center at the Kent campus. Masks are optional at all other campus locations.

Kaitlyn Finchler, General Assignment Editor

Kent State’s Pandemic Leadership Committee addressed concerns around equity of an updated mask requirement prior to announcing the university’s updated mask mandate Thursday.

“When you don’t require face coverings indoors, the question then becomes equity, and what did people choose, what is the disruption to the learning environment during the semester,” associate provost for academic affairs and chair of the Pandemic Leadership Committee Manfred van Dulmen said in a meeting with KentWired staff Friday.

According to the new guidance, masks are still required on Kent State’s campuses during scheduled classes, labs and studios and at DeWeese Health Center, on PARTA buses and in the Child Development Center at the Kent campus. Face coverings are optional at all other campus locations.

The decision to maintain the mask mandate in classes, studios and labs while removing it from certain indoor spaces or public events stems from an individual’s ability to choose, van Dulmen said.

“With events, we felt that people have a choice to attend in person or not,” he said, “which is different from the class where you’re expected to go to the class.”

Similar consideration was given to meetings with faculty and staff in their office spaces, some of whom may choose to wear masks, while others may choose to go without them.

 “Where we ended up was really leaving that within a personal choice, but also asking people to be respectful when somebody is asking me to put a face cover on in their office,” van Dulmen said. “That was very similar to some guidance we had last summer about Flashes take care of Flashes.”

The university also had to consider the message they’re sending to future students by requiring a mask indoors when CDC and state guidelines recommend otherwise.

“One of the things that we were hearing from the community, and when prospective students were visiting campus, [was] that some families were put off by still requiring this where in most other locations, where people live there no longer was a requirement,” he said.

 Feedback from faculty has been overall positive, with a few exceptions, van Dulmen said.

“Generally we’ve been pleased with the reactions,” he said, “but certainly there are people who are not happy who either wanted to see it be more stringent and continue to keep face coverings everywhere indoors or have it be more relaxed and have it not be required anywhere indoors.”

Committee members raised concerns that some instructors wanted to revert back to remote learning, but van Dulmen said this would disrupt the quality of education.

“As part of the conversations we’ve had and what we’ve been hearing from students and instructors is that people also went into the semester with a certain expectation in the classroom in terms of how courses would be delivered when they signed up for an in-person course,” van Dulmen said.

There’s a chance the university may revert back to the previous mask mandate depending on factors such as county risk levels and campus COVID-19 case numbers in residence halls and classrooms.

The university had zero students in isolation and quarantine, and zero positive COVID cases in  between Feb. 28 and March 1, van Dulmen said. As of Friday, all of Kent State’s campuses are in counties with low community risk levels.

“Certainly we will evaluate on a weekly basis where we’re at on campus and whether we have to change any of our prevention strategies as we’ve done throughout the pandemic,” van Dulmen said.

University officials are considering potential revisions to guidelines released Thursday, one of which relates to locations where masks aren’t required, but hold classes within the building such as the Beverly J. Warren Student Recreation and Wellness Center.

“Like anything that is part of a course schedule, face covers will still be required,” van Dulmen said. “The classes that are scheduled in the rec, the workout classes, we want to provide some discretion to instructors for how to approach that.”

Students are required to wear face coverings while attending scheduled classes in the Recreation and Wellness Center, according to an email statement from Emily Vincent, director of university media relations.

“To answer your question about whether masks are required for classes in the rec center, yes, academic courses held in the rec center should maintain face coverings during their class sessions,” she said.

The Pandemic Leadership Committee will be meeting with other leaders on campus and in county public health to discuss revisions to the updated guidelines relating to mask-optional spaces that hold scheduled classes similar to the Recreation and Wellness Center, van Dulmen said.

“We will probably walk through [revisions] in the next few days,” he said. “We need to bring some updated guidance.”

Kaitlyn Finchler is general assignment editor. Contact her at [email protected]