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BGSU lifts COVID-19 mask mandate

Masked+students+on+campus
Masked students on campus

BGSU will no longer require face coverings on campus, starting on Monday.

BGSU President Rodney Rogers sent a COVID-19 update Saturday, lifting the mask mandate effective Feb. 28. This applies to all indoor locations on campus, including classrooms and residence halls.

BGSU Chief Health Office Ben Batey said the mandate is being lifted per the CDC’s COVID-19 County Community Levels. Wood County is at a medium risk level and Erie County — where branch campus BGSU Firelands is located — is at a low risk level.

The medium risk level recommends three prevention steps:

  • Talk to your healthcare provider about wearing face coverings and other precautions if you are at a high risk for severe illness

  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 vaccines

  • Get tested if you have any COVID-19 symptoms

The low risk level only recommends the latter two prevention steps.

Batey said the county moving back into the high risk level category would lead to a reinstatement of the mask mandate indoors.

As far as discussing the decision with students prior to it being made, Batey said Undergraduate Student Government President Alex Chiarelott and Graduate Student Senate President Ikpemesi Ogundare were sought for input.

Batey also said an email was sent out to solicit feedback prior to making the decision. He did not specify who the email was sent to.

The update clarifies that individuals may still wear face coverings at any time.

“The change in our face covering practices does not mark the end of this global pandemic. However, let’s take a moment to celebrate this progress, which truly demonstrates the power of education, scholarship, research, technology and innovation,” the update states.

The update states BGSU has “constantly focused on a balanced approach” after hearing from “every side of every argument.”

BGSU faculty teaching courses in person can submit requests for mandatory masking in their classrooms to the chairs or directors of their respective departments, who then communicate the request to the deans of their respective college.

The college’s dean then chooses to authorize or not authorize the request.

Batey said these requests are intended to be temporary, and authorized requests will last no more than a couple of weeks. Requests for classroom masking requirements to last until the end of the semester will “probably not” be approved, Batey said.

For faculty who make requests that last until spring break, Batey said high-risk individuals are encouraged to talk to their health care providers about proper precautions for in-person teaching.

Authorized requests are intended to “buy that individual time” to take those precautions, Batey said.

Batey said the BGSU community is being asked to be “kind and respectful” of others’ potential risk levels, such as masking around individuals whose personal risk level is unknown.

An update from BGSU’s Division of Health and Wellness on Feb. 17 foreshadowed a possible revision of face covering guidelines on campus.

“​​As we move into the next phases of the endemic, the University will adjust face covering guidance in public spaces, as well as classroom or laboratory settings,” that update stated.

The Feb. 26 update also uses the word endemic, stating “we have been and continue to move toward an endemic.”

Batey defined an endemic as “being in a position where there may be cases within your community, but it’s no longer having drastic impacts on things like your healthcare system.”

Batey noted that certain areas of the U.S. are still experiencing high numbers of cases and deaths, so nationally, COVID-19 is still a pandemic. But since COVID-19’s severity in one city can be drastically different from other cities, it can still be treated as endemic in Wood County.

“Our healthcare system is not stretched, we have resources to respond to COVID-19 cases and the public health system feels like we’re in a good spot here locally,” he said.

In discussions on COVID-19 possibly becoming endemic, the flu is often cited as an example of an endemic virus, due to it being a consistent presence — hence the phrase “flu season” — but manageable through yearly vaccines and other treatment options.

In January, the Omicron variant spread across the world, however “it appears we have seen its peak both nationally and locally,” the Feb. 26 update states.

According to the BGSU COVID-19 Dashboard, on-campus cases during the spring 2022 academic semester peaked during the period from Jan. 12 to Jan. 18, with 211 confirmed and suspected cases in total.

BGSU, Wood County, and Erie County reported fewer cases in February compared to January.

As of Feb. 23, the dashboard update shows 11 on-campus cases. The dashboard’s last period reported 21 on-campus cases.

On Feb. 21, the dashboard reported 186 cases in Wood County and 74 cases in Erie County. On Feb. 14, the dashboard reported 195 cases in Wood County and 213 cases in Erie County.

Batey said projections indicate “we’ll continue to stay at a low level of cases.”

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