UW eliminates classroom mask mandate
Masks will still be required in “medically-related units” such as Student Health Services, but no longer during class. Admins argued classes are involuntary and the immunocompromised need protection.
The University of Wyoming will no longer require masks in its classrooms, removing a mandate that has stood since August.
The UW Board of Trustees — on a narrow 6-5 margin — rejected an administration proposal to keep masks in classrooms until March.
College of Health Sciences Dean David Jones said UW’s COVID advisory committee had come to a compromise, relaxing mask requirements wherever concerned students have the option of staying home, but requiring them where students have to be.
“Going to a game is a voluntary activity,” Jones said. “Going to class is relatively involuntary and students have to be in that classroom together. You have to be in class, you have to be in that space. Whether you’re concerned about exposure or not, you have to be there.”
ASUW President Hunter Swilling also advocated for masks in classrooms, saying it would protect high-risk students.
“I had a friend who is 20 years old, triple-vaccinated, and she had to go to the emergency room because she’s immunocompromised and caught COVID-19,” Swilling said. “She was hospitalized for two days. So it’s still a thing that can impact even young people. But she would have to go to class.”
The majority of the board, however, was not swayed.
“It continues to be divisive,” said Trustee Macey Moore, who has long advocated for the removal of the mask mandate. “We need to look at our state, we need to understand what our state is doing. That is, by and large, who we need to represent. And we are the only group in the state that’s continuing to have these mandates.”
Trustees Brad LaCroix and Carol Linton also voiced their opposition to the mandate.
In a highly unusual move, Chair Jeff Marsh allowed a public comment to be made during the board’s discussion. Typically, the board reserves a limited window for public comment at its in-person meetings, which take place every other month.
Nicholas McDaniel asked the board to vote against “medical tyranny” and allow UW students to “make their own medical decisions.” He also accused the university of threatening to disband the Christian student group Campus Ventures if it refused to require masks at its meetings.
The original proposal from UW administration called for a modified mask mandate – one that would still require masks in classrooms and some other locations, but no longer require masks in hallways, the student union or Coe Library.
UW President Ed Seidel said the modified mandate would be appropriate given the recent drop in case counts.
“In the state of Wyoming, we are experiencing a drop after a surge,” he said. “It appeared to peak two weeks ago. It is now decreasing rapidly. As of Monday, we have at UW 13 active cases and our sample prevalence is 5 percent.”
The sample prevalence two weeks ago, Seidel said, was 12.4 percent.
But this proposal failed on a 5-6 vote.
Once that motion had failed, Trustee Laura Schmid-Pizzato brought a new motion. Schmid-Pizzato’s motion struck the classroom requirement from the proposal but left the rest intact.
This passed on a 9-2 vote, with Trustees David Fall and Dave True voting against and Trustee Michelle Sullivan absent.
Masks will still be required in Student Health Services, the Albany Community Health Clinic and residency programs in Casper and Cheyenne. Masks are also still required in any campus office when requested by that office’s occupant and in the UW Early Childhood Education Center.
Zooming in from his house, President Seidel said he had tested positive for COVID-19.
Seidel said his illness illustrates the rapid, unstoppable spread of the omicron variant, but also the effectiveness of vaccines and boosters.
“If you’re vaccinated, it seems that the omicron can rather easily penetrate your vaccination — but not to infect you with a serious illness,” he said. “Generally. There are lots of exceptions, if you’re immunocompromised and have other mitigating factors perhaps.”
The motion takes effect Monday.