Chancellor says requiring masks at KU again will get serious consideration

photo by: Associated Press

University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod testifies during a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020.

The University of Kansas hasn’t yet made a decision to require masks again at its campuses, but the topic is going to get some serious consideration, Chancellor Douglas Girod said Wednesday.

“Douglas County is not a hot zone right now, but we know we are surrounded by them,” Girod said.

Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health on Tuesday stopped short of issuing a new public health order that would mandate masks in the county, but it “strongly recommended” that individuals 2 years and older start wearing a mask indoors, even if they have been fully vaccinated. The health department made its recommendation after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance on masks.

After the health department’s announcement, the Lawrence school district almost immediately came out with a new policy that mandates masks be worn in all of its facilities. KU, however, didn’t take any such action.

Back in May, KU announced that masks were no longer required on campus. Girod, in a brief interview Wednesday morning, did not indicate that a change to that policy was imminent, but said the matter was under review by the university’s pandemic advisory board. When asked if he had a timeline for making a decision, he said certainly before mid-August, when students start arriving for classes, which begin on Aug. 23.

“We’ll certainly have a plan by then,” Girod said. “We, of course, already have a plan, it is just that it very well may have to change.”

KU’s current plan does include at least one mask requirement. Students who are living in dormitories and other on-campus housing can voluntarily provide university health officials with a proof of vaccination form. Absent proof of vaccination, students upon their move-in day will be required to take a COVID-19 test. Those students will be required to wear a mask while in common areas of the dormitories until the test results come back, which normally is within two days.

Students who aren’t living in the dormitories, however, generally face no mask requirements. They also face no mandatory testing requirements. KU has previously said that tests would be made readily available to any student, faculty or staff member who wanted one. But unlike when the campus restarted in-person classes earlier in the pandemic, it won’t require a one-time test for all returning students.

Girod said there were still no plans to require testing for all students, but he said that was a topic that likely would be discussed by the university’s pandemic advisory board.

One thing KU is not in a position to consider is requiring that students show proof of vaccination, or a “vaccine passport.” A law approved by the state Legislature last session prohibits the state’s universities and other agencies from requiring a vaccine passport as a condition of delivering services.

But nothing in the law stops students from voluntarily providing proof of vaccination, and KU has set up a system through its student health center to record those proof-of-vaccination forms. KU has indicated that such proof of vaccination could exempt students from having to isolate if they are deemed to have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Exact details of how that system and others will work haven’t yet been announced.

“Students can expect to receive additional information on the process, along with reasons to encourage them to get vaccinated, as we approach the fall semester,” KU spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said via email earlier this month.


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