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Masks back at college

Western Carolina University. Western Carolina University.

With case numbers surging and fall semester beginning, local colleges and universities are reinstituting indoor masking requirements that had been lifted for the summer months. 

“We know that getting all eligible people vaccinated is the best way to combat this virus,” said Southwestern Community College President Don Tomas. “We need to implement this mask mandate to try and keep everyone as safe as possible as we start our fall semester. We will continue to monitor daily case numbers and review CDC and local/state guidance.” 

Western Carolina University was the first to enact the new guidelines. In an email to students, faculty and staff sent Tuesday, Aug. 3, WCU Chancellor Kelli R. Brown said that the university remains “committed to having a robust campus experience for students and our campus community” and that “vaccination remains the best path forward for a full return to normal operations this fall.”

Effective immediately, she wrote, face coverings would be required in all public indoor spaces on both the Cullowhee and Biltmore Park campuses. The change is in response to new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations stating that, regardless of vaccination status, people should wear face coverings in areas with high or substantial community spread. All of Western North Carolina currently falls into this category. 

Additionally, students, faculty and staff at WCU are being asked to report their vaccination status. 

“This information will be used to inform WCU’s ongoing preparations and planning,” Brown wrote. “We do not plan to share individual vaccine status information. We plan to share only aggregate group percentages of vaccine status for faculty, staff and students.”

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The email came exactly two months after the June 3 message in which Brown announced the lifting of capacity limits and physical distancing requirements, and that face coverings would be optional for fully vaccinated people except in instructional spaces, the Cat-Tran and healthcare settings. 

On Aug. 4, Haywood Community College began requiring face coverings in indoor spaces where a six-foot social distance cannot be maintained. SCC’s policy went into effect the very next day, Aug. 5, requiring masks indoors at all SCC locations regardless of a person’s vaccination status. The college still plans to keep a full schedule of face-to-face classes this fall. 

Free COVID-19 vaccines are available across the region , including at the WCU Clinic. The clinic is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and offers Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson shots. To make an appointment, call 828.227.7640. 

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