Mississippi University of Women has dropped its face covering mandate after new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines marked the COVID-19 community level in Lowndes County as low.
Masks became “recommended” on campus as of Tuesday.
According to the CDC, a low community level classification is determined by three different factors: new COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 population in the past seven days, the percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, and total new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population in the past seven days.
Lowndes County currently has 31 active cases over the last seven days, and at MUW there are only two active cases among students, faculty and staff as of this past Monday, according to MUW’s case tracker on its website.
While MUW is highly encouraging mask wearing in all campus indoor settings, face coverings are still required in health care settings on campus.
James King, a part-time communications student from Columbus who is rarely on campus for class, said Thursday he is fine with shedding his mask at this point. He also pointed out several safety measures MUW still offers despite lifting the mandate.
“I’ve opted to not wear a mask on campus now that they are optional, but I also know that (personal protective equipment), like free face masks, are extremely accessible,” King said. “I’ve had to get tested a few times, and testing was free at Eckford (Hall). Thankfully, I haven’t gotten COVID, but I do know the W offers quarantine rooms and they bring food to you in order to minimize the spread. I really appreciate that and knowing the school has our best interests in mind.”
James Ashmore, a junior nursing student from Meadville, is another student who has opted to go maskless when allowed, especially since his major still requires him to be masked in health care settings.
“As a nursing student, we all have to be vaccinated, and I just went to Kroger for a same day appointment for my vaccine doses, and that was incredibly easy,” Ashmore said. “We’ve (nursing students) all been vaccinated for so long and we all sit separately, so I understand where lifting it is coming from. I really didn’t mind the mandate. Honestly, at this point, I feel like people are just tired of wearing masks. The cases are low, but if cases were still up, I’d be more wary.”
Ashmore has noted a huge difference from just the beginning of the semester in January to now, less than two months later.
“At the beginning of the semester, our classrooms would have a box of masks and the teacher would hand you one if you needed it,” Ashmore said. “As a nursing student, we’ve always had in-person classes, but there was a point at the beginning of the semester when we had to wear the N95s plus a face shield. So, it’s kind of wild, like from January versus now, there has been such a dramatic change to no more masks.”
For those choosing to continue to wear a face covering, the university will continue to support them, and employees are allowed to request face coverings to be worn inside private offices, according to a university press release. MUW is still encouraging faculty, students and staff to be fully vaccinated, and they offer all doses of the vaccine, including boosters, on campus. The school also offers accessible free COVID-19 testing to faculty, staff and students.