University relaxes mask mandate, with masks still required in classrooms and select campus locations

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. (Maddy Haberberger)

Effective immediately, masks are still required on Kent State’s campuses during scheduled classes, labs and studios. Masks will also be required at DeWeese Health Center, on PARTA buses and in the Child Development Center at the Kent campus.

Masks are optional at all other campus locations, according to a Thursday email announcement from Manfred van Dulmen, associate provost for academic affairs. Faculty may require visitors to wear masks when entering their offices.

The CDC announced new mask guidelines Friday that no longer recommend wearing masks indoors in counties where the COVID-19 community level is medium or low. Masks are recommended in medium-risk communities for those who are immunocompromised, at high risk of severe illness or who live with someone who is, according to the CDC.

Community levels are a new tool developed by the CDC that is intended to help communities decide what prevention steps to take based on the latest data. According to its website, “levels can be low, medium, or high and are determined by looking at hospital beds being used, hospital admissions, and the total number of new COVID-19 cases in an area.”

Kent State’s campuses located in counties marked at low risk levels include Portage, Columbiana, Stark, Summit and Tuscarawas counties, or medium risk, including Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga and Trumbull counties, van Dulmen said.

“We will continue to monitor county-level data weekly to determine if changes in community levels warrant changes to our mask policy,” he said.

In an email sent Thursday, President Todd Diacon acknowledged those who may not feel comfortable navigating campus without a mask.

“It would feel odd to me, for example, not to wear a mask at an indoor sporting event on campus or even while shopping at the grocery store,” he said. “Please know that I understand fully that others will behave differently, and I accept and honor your choices, as I know that you will honor and respect the decisions of others around you.”

The university revised its mask mandate based on CDC guidance, advice from faculty in the College of Public Health, local health officials, other Ohio universities and several other factors, Diacon said.

“Instructors may continue to teach without a mask if they can maintain 6 feet of distance from their students,” van Dulmen said. “The guidelines for managing noncompliance in the classroom remain in place,” and may include invoking the university’s Classroom Disruption Policy.

Kent State announced its mask mandate prior to the fall 2020 semester with the introduction of the Flashes Safe Seven protocol, which required the Kent State community to wear masks indoors and outdoors. The university removed its outdoor mask requirement in May 2021 and its social distancing requirement Dec. 13.

Bowling Green State University lifted its ban Feb. 28 and Ohio University relaxed its mask mandate March 1. At Ohio University, masks are no longer required in most non-classroom public spaces on campuses in counties with low or medium COVID-19 community levels but are required indoors in counties with high COVID-19 community levels, according to the website.

The university will continue to provide students, faculty and staff with free masks, COVID-19 testing and vaccines, van Dulmen said.

“It’s also important to note that the CDC still recommends that anyone with COVID-19 symptoms, who is positive for COVID-19 or who was recently exposed to the virus should wear a mask until they can be tested and cleared, typically for 10 days,” van Dulmen said.

University officials announced changes to the mask mandate following a meeting of the Pandemic Leadership Committee Thursday. KentWired asked to cover the meeting, but was denied access.

In the request, Zaria Johnson, editor of The Kent Stater/KentWired, said, “We think it would be beneficial for our audience to have a deeper understanding of how the committee works and the process it uses to make important decisions regarding COVID-19 and the university.” Emily Vincent, director of university media relations, replied “the Pandemic Leadership Committee is not a public body,” which means its meetings are not subject to public meetings laws and may be held without press access.

KentWired will continue to report on updates regarding the university’s mask mandate following a press meeting with van Dulmen Friday morning.

Alexandra Golden is an assigning editor. Contact her at [email protected]

Zaria Johnson is editor-in-chief. Contact her at [email protected].

Kaitlyn Finchler contributed to this report.