While the city of Starkville will be lifting its citywide mask mandate as of Saturday, Mississippi State University announced Wednesday it would still require face coverings within classrooms on campus throughout the summer.
Beginning May 6, masks will be optional within some indoor locations on campus, including offices and public spaces such as hallways and restrooms. But they will still be required inside classrooms, laboratories and studios. Capacity limitations for indoor facilities on campus will increase to 75 percent, which includes auditoriums, meeting rooms and classrooms.
MSU Chief Communications Officer Sid Salter said the university came to this conclusion after input and expertise from leadership, including President Mark Keenum, Vice President of Student Affairs Regina Hyatt, Provost and Executive Vice President David Shaw and other individuals and groups on campus.
Even though MSU is alleviating some of the COVID-19 protocols on campus, Salter said, the university is still encouraging faculty, staff and students to take precautions when possible to help decrease case numbers.
“Wearing a face covering, maintaining distancing and of course, we’re not shy about encouraging vaccinations — all of those are strategies that we believe will continue to reduce the spread of COVID and will expedite the university getting on a normal, traditional footing,” Salter said.
While many locations on campus will not be enforcing face coverings, some buildings will still require students and faculty to wear masks. Salter said the university has not completely decided which buildings will require masks, but administration will be developing lists containing that information after commencement — which concludes with two ceremonies today — and will release those soon.
Salter also said MSU will provide masks for any employee or student who needs one. Employees can get that mask from contacting their department head, and students can go to the YMCA Building on campus to get one.
Although the university has set its protocols for the summer, Salter said MSU has not outlined exact procedures yet except intentions of having a more open return. He said as the university moves toward the fall, administration will be monitoring the general status of the pandemic, case numbers and how many students, faculty or staff have been exposed to the virus or are in quarantine.
“Nothing is set in concrete as we move through Maymester and summer, but we’ve already said earlier this month — April 20 to be exact — that we plan a broader return for in-person classes,” Salter said. “There is nothing that has happened to change that, as a matter of fact, from a federal or state level that appears to be not just what Mississippi State will be doing but what most institutions will be doing.”
The city of Starkville voted on April 20 to lift its citywide mask ordinance at midnight Saturday. Mayor Lynn Spruill said she is confident in the board of aldermen’s decision to move forward with lifting the mandate.
“I am comfortable that we have reached a point that it is appropriate we give our citizens and businesses the option for masks,” Spruill said. “We have been strong in our support for the mask requirement, but it is time, with vaccinations available to all and hospital services not overtaxed, that we move back to personal accountability with a strong recommendation that people continue to follow the CDC guidelines.”
In contrast to Starkville, Columbus City Council lifted its citywide mask mandate April 6. While the city would not require face masks in public anymore, private businesses could still enforce mask mandates if they wish to do so.
Mississippi University for Women Executive Director of University Relations Anika Mitchell Perkins said MUW’s task force will be meeting today to discuss the future of COVID-19 guidelines and mask mandates at the university. As of March 3, MUW released a statement that the university will continue to require the wearing of face coverings on campus until further notice.
There were only 41 new COVID-19 cases and no deaths reported in the Golden Triangle this past week.
Lowndes County continues to have the highest COVID-19 numbers in the four-county area with 6,345 total reported cases and 144 deaths since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, according to the most recent data from the Mississippi State Department of Health. There were 29 new cases and no deaths reported in the county over the past week.
There have been 30,882 first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccination administered to Lowndes County residents as of 8 a.m. Thursday, according to the MSDH website, and 14,836 residents have been fully vaccinated. Twenty-five percent of the county’s population have now been fully vaccinated.
In Oktibbeha County, there have been a total of 4,592 COVID-19 cases and 98 deaths reported with only six new cases and no deaths.
There have been 30,992 doses of the vaccine administered to residents of Oktibbeha County as of Thursday morning, with 14,836 people fully vaccinated, bringing the total population vaccinated in Oktibbeha County to 29 percent.
Noxubee County has had a total of 1,269 casesand 34 deaths reported since the beginning of the pandemic, with only three new cases and no deaths over the past week.
Noxubee County residents have received 5,884 doses of the vaccine, and 2,955 are fully vaccinated. The total percentage of the county’s population vaccinated is 28 percent.
Clay County saw only three new cases and no deaths, bringing the county’s total to 1,838 cases and 54 deaths.
There have been 9,109 doses of vaccines administered to Clay County residents, with 4,501 fully vaccinated bringing the county’s total population vaccinated to 23 percent.
There were 1,517 new cases reported throughout the state over the past week as of 3 p.m. Thursday, bringing Mississippi’s case total to 311,654 and 7,195 deaths. There have been 1,682,494 total vaccinations administered to Mississippi residents, with 779,665 fully vaccinated.