Monkeypox, COVID and masks: Most colleges tell students, it’s on you to stay safe this fall

A few outliers remain cautious and implement mandates to stave off potential early outbreaks of coronavirus.

Though not the example set by every institution, recent health guidance released by Florida State University is closely aligned with the vast majority of colleges that have set  policies for the fall. That is, the onus is on students, faculty and staff to remain safe. That includes both COVID and monkeypox.

“To be clear, there is no COVID-19 testing, vaccination, social distancing, or masking requirement to visit, live, work, or study on campus,” Renisha Gibbs, Associate Vice President for Human Resources, told the FSU community. “In addition, faculty and staff will no longer be required to report positive COVID-19 test results to the university or complete the daily COVID wellness check.”

FSU is in a state where mandates cannot be enforced but it is hardly an outlier this year. Even those in Democratic-leaning states are opening up. UCLA, the University of Vermont, St. Lawrence College and the University of Michigan are among the hundreds that have maintained the easing of, or reduced significantly, safety protocols to start 2022-23. At the same time, they are all telling students to be updated on vaccinations, to remain vigilant when gathering and to watch close contact with individuals as they navigate campuses with the novel monkeypox circulating.

There are still a few universities that have taken a more reflective and conservative approach to opening by again instituting mask policies, at least temporarily as they acclimate students again to the college scene. The University is Delaware is requiring masks from Aug. 30 through Sept. 9 in classrooms, labs and transportation, citing the potential for spread of the BA.5 omicron variant, which is still fueling a 16% positivity rate across the state.

“We know from campus experience over the past two and a half years that COVID-19 cases tend to surge at the beginning of each semester, largely due to the sharp increase in campus density as students arrive at UD from various locations around the United States and the world,” UD officials said in a statement. “These surges are fairly short lived (1-2 weeks) and are typically not replicated until the next semester.”

More from UB: Will monkeypox cases at two universities be harbinger for fall?

One potential benefit of continued masking, at least in terms of COVID, is that the Food and Drug Administration is aiming to approve long-term boosters for omicron just after Labor Day. Campuses that can keep outbreaks down to start the fall and limit the potential for faculty to get coronavirus – most institutions are allowing instructors to remove masks even if students can’t – may feel more at ease reopening if they can assure populations to get the new booster doses.

That guarded approach is also being taken by Georgetown University, Columbia University and Rutgers University, which have indefinite policies that again will keep face coverings on. They were among the first during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to institute further safety measures and have not eased them much.

“It is clear that the COVID-19 virus, in some form, is now a permanent part of our daily lives,” Antonio Calcado, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Rutgers, said in a statement. “As the virus moves from pandemic to endemic, Rutgers continues to maintain safety protocols on face coverings, vaccines and boosters, testing, and quarantining and isolation.”

Regardless of stances on COVID, all institutions are keeping a watch on developments around monkeypox. Calcado offered a warning to his community ahead of the campus’ Sept. 6 opening, saying “the university does not have access to monkeypox vaccine and will not be offering treatment.”

There are approximately 17,000 cases of monkeypox now in the United States, and that number is growing, primarily among gay men. The University of Delaware and Texas State University have reported individual cases among their campus populations this week. Supply remains extremely limited, as the lone drugmaker in the world, Bavarian Nordic, struggles to meet demand. U.S. healthcare workers have been asked to try to get five injections out of every one dose to maximize the amount of patients that need them.

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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