UB is updating its indoor masking policy for the fall semester following a surge in nationwide COVID-19 cases and new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Students, faculty and staff — regardless of vaccination status — will be required to wear face masks inside all campus buildings, effective Tuesday. The list includes classrooms, libraries, hallways and other common spaces.
Masks will not be required in personal rooms at residence halls, within personal offices or in non-public-facing personal workstations, according to an email to the campus community from Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs A. Scott Weber and Vice President for Health Services Michael Cain.
Vaccinated students and employees will not be required to wear face masks outdoors on campus; unvaccinated individuals will be. All students — regardless of vaccination status — will be required to wear masks at large outdoor gatherings, like football games.
UB’s new guidance, announced Monday afternoon, is a change from previous guidance stating that indoor mask wearing would be optional for fully-vaccinated individuals.
Less than one month ago, on July 9, UB released health and safety guidelines stipulating that in-person students must get vaccinated, and that those who don’t — either for personal or religious reasons — will need to undergo mandatory weekly testing.
The guidance also said that students and faculty who have been vaccinated for COVID-19 no longer need to wear masks, but that individuals who haven’t been vaccinated are responsible for wearing masks both indoors and outdoors — except for when they are in their personal residence halls or eating out in public.
Mask wearing would have still been required on UB buses and within certain health care settings, university officials said. Social distancing would not have been required indoors or outdoors, regardless of vaccination status.
The Delta variant, or B.1.617.2, is now responsible for 82.2% of new cases in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An internal CDC slideshow from early last week stated that the Delta variant is as transmissible as chickenpox and more infectious than the common cold, seasonal flu and smallpox.
That slide presentation said vaccines reduce the risk of severe disease and death by at least 10-fold and the risk of infection by three-fold. But increasing reports of breakthrough infections — including an outbreak in Cape Cod, MA last week that is linked to at least 430 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including hundreds among vaccinated individuals — have raised concern among health experts and some members of the public.
“High viral loads suggest an increased risk of transmission and raised concern that, unlike with other variants, vaccinated people infected with Delta can transmit the virus,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Friday. “This finding is concerning and was a pivotal discovery leading to CDC’s updated mask recommendations.”
The Erie County Department of Health confirmed 99 new COVID-19 cases on July 29, representing “substantial COVID-19 transmission,” according to the agency. The county recently changed its mask policy, requiring all employees, vendors and visitors to wear masks while in an Erie County building or facility.
“Even with significantly fewer diagnostic tests being done, we have seen a sharp increase in new daily case totals,” Erie County Commissioner of Health Gale Burstein said in a release. “Regardless of vaccination status, wearing a mask is one way to reduce the risk of disease transmission. We continue to recommend that people stay home when sick and get a diagnostic test if you experience symptoms or are a close contact.”
Local officials continue to urge people to get vaccinated.
University officials announced Friday that the school will host the Class of 2020 for an in-person commencement ceremony over Homecoming Weekend, on Oct. 1. The festivities were pushed online last May due to the pandemic, but Tripathi promised an in-person ceremony when “feasible.”
The initial UBNow story said the celebration will follow the university’s COVID-19 health and safety guidelines and that unvaccinated individuals would need to wear a mask. It has not been updated as of the time of publication.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, and as recommendations from federal, state and local entities potentially change, UB will adjust its health and safety guidelines accordingly,” Weber and Cain wrote in the joint email.
Justin Weiss is the managing editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Justin Weiss is the The Spectrum's managing editor. In his free time, he can be found hiking, playing baseball or throwing things at his TV when his sports teams aren't winning. His words have appeared in Elite Sports New York and the Long Island Herald. He can be found on Twitter @Jwmlb1.