University maintains mask mandate amidst COVID-19 cases lowering


Photo by Shield Archive

Gina Flores, junior exercise science major, and Elizabeth Dauby, senior exercise science major, lower their masks as they wait outside for the athletics facility celebration to begin Sept. 16, 2021.

Fallon Heady, Staff Writer

Positive COVID-19 cases are lower on campus and in the state, but the university mask mandate is not lowering. 

University COVID-19 cases dropped from 203 positive cases between Jan. 16 to Jan. 22 to 42 cases between Feb. 6 to Feb. 12, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard. Vanderburgh County’s reported positive cases have dropped by 75% and COVID-19 related hospitalizations have dropped 22% over the past two weeks, according to The New York Times 

Despite these significant drops, Vanderburgh County and its surrounding counties remain in an advisory level of red, according to the Indiana COVID-19 Data Report.

The COVID-19 Presidential Task Force met to discuss the university’s mask mandate policy on Feb. 16. The task force decided the mask mandate would not be lifted for the university.  

David Bower, chair of the COVID-19 task force, said “Since our North Star has been to follow the CDC recommendations; because this region currently is experiencing a high positivity rate; because our medical personnel, including the Deaconess Health Clinic physician and nursing staff; and because our faculty experts in epidemiology advise against relaxing the mask mandate, at this time, we are staying the course for now.” 

The significant drop in COVID-19 cases has led the Indiana Department of Health (IDOH) to revise COVID-19 policies for schools.

K-12 schools will no longer be required to contact trace or report positive cases to IDOH, and exposed students, regardless of vaccination status or use of masks, will not have to quarantine, beginning Wednesday, according to 14 News. Students who test positive are required to quarantine for five days. 

Schools are expected to report outbreaks to local health departments and are encouraged to share information with families when cases are identified, according to 14 News. 

Laurie Berry, assistant dean of students and overseer of student contact tracing, said the university contact tracing policies has not undergone substantial change at this time, but the days and hours the Dean of Students Office works on contract tracing has changed.

Contact tracing previously took place every day of the week. According to Berry, tracing will now occur from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Berry said self-report forms submitted outside of those times will be taken care of the next business day.

“As the country moves from a pandemic into the endemic stages, there will be a change in guidance as it relates to masks,” Berry said. “At this time, numbers of cases, while going down from highs a month or so ago, are still higher than we had in the later months of 2021.”

“I get that we are all tired of masks. I am tired of masks. I don’t want to get COVID and I don’t want to spread COVID to those more vulnerable to the disease,” Berry said. “So if that means masking, I will do my part.”