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  • Writer's pictureLucas Nava

COVID cases are dropping, but some MU faculty still want masks

The following was edited by Columbia Missourian Higher Education editor Gordon Dickson. Click on the link to reach the original article.

As COVID-19 cases decline and many Missourians contemplate when it will be possible to return to a life completely without masks, some MU faculty members still want more COVID-19 protection measures on campus.

Martha Kelly, secretary of MU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, blamed Missouri state leaders for politicizing the pandemic and pressuring the UM System Board of Curators to follow suit. The Board of Curators is the governing body for all four University of Missouri campuses.

“The campus policy around COVID is ... directly due to the politicization of COVID in this state, and I think a lot of the frustration of faculty is that part of a curator’s job is to protect us ... from political manipulation,” said Kelly, who also is an associate professor.

“I would like to see our president and our chancellor and our curators empower our campus to make decisions that it needs to make,” she said.

MU’s temporary mask mandate expired Oct. 15, creating confusion among some faculty and students. The city of Columbia allowed its wider mask mandate to expire on the same day.

“I would like (it) if we still had the mandate,” MU professor and Faculty Council Chair Kathleen Trauth said at the time. “It keeps us protected, but I can see the other perspective.”

In January, as the highly contagious COVID-19 omicron variant was spreading, UM System President Mun Choi requested that the curators implement a two-week mask mandate in public facilities such as classrooms and laboratories where social distancing was not possible.

However, the request was denied by a vote of 3-6. A second proposal that would have limited the mandates to classrooms and laboratories only was also denied, this time by a vote of 2-7.

Currently, there are few mask mandates or vaccine mandates on campus, although some workers at MU Health Care and in other clinical positions are required to cover their faces.

MU spokesperson Christian Basi said it’s important to note that the administration’s preventive measures have worked. MU has had only had six new COVID-19 cases reported in the past seven days, Basi said Tuesday.

‘Serious health concerns’

While professors are allowed to encourage their students to wear masks, requiring them is expressly forbidden, something that concerns Kelly because she knows immunocompromised faculty members who want masks worn indoors.

“I know that I have colleagues who have serious health concerns who are not allowed to ensure that their students wear masks in class,” Kelly said. “You know, I think there are faculty who have legitimate concerns and are not allowed to take measures to keep themselves and their families safe.”

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