Chancellor's Message: Mask Requirement Lifted, Guidance Updated
Dear colleagues and students,
Last Monday, I sent a message to communicate the decision made by our COVID Response Committee to return to the pre-Omicron mask policies which allowed individuals to remove masks indoors when a distance of six feet or more could be assured. In that correspondence, I indicated that the committee would meet again on March 7 to review our campus active cases and information shared about our community active cases in order to determine if we could reduce or eliminate the requirement to wear masks on campus.
Since the time of that correspondence, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revised their guidance and most schools and universities in the state of Arkansas and surrounding states have eliminated mask mandates. On Friday, I received notice that the UA System has asked each institution and agency to change institutional mask policies. Our new campus policy beginning immediately states: “UAFS encourages, but does not require, employees, students, and guests to wear well-fitting face masks.” Campus signage, websites, and other correspondence will be changed to reflect this new approach.
Of course, I want to reiterate the risk reduction techniques which can help us keep our active case counts low: 1) Practice good hand hygiene—hand washing and hand sanitizer are some of the best practices to reducing spread of any virus, 2) Cough or sneeze into your elbow, 3) Consider distancing in meetings, classrooms, laboratories, and at events, where possible, 4) Consider getting vaccinated or boosted, if you have not, 5) Continue to monitor your health daily and get tested if you show any symptoms of COVID-19, and 6) Continue to wear masks if you choose to do so. You will see me wearing a mask in many on-campus and off-campus settings in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other germs.
UAFS will continue to provide PPE on campus. It will be available in main offices, classrooms, and on tables in main entrance or lobby areas of buildings. Please feel free to take what you personally need to continue cleaning, sanitizing, and masking to avoid spreading COVID-19.
We still encourage people who are traveling to be prepared to wear masks when using interstate transportation (i.e. trains, planes, etc.). The TSA mask mandate is set to expire on March 18, 2022, so check before you travel to ensure you know all requirements and restrictions at hotels, conference centers, transportation providers, and restaurants/tourist attractions before you leave.
In summary, while we may be relaxing mask requirements for our campus, I still want you to take all necessary precautions to stay safe. In the event that virus transmission escalates I will communicate changes to our policy quickly after consulting with our COVID Response Team. Our main goal is for you to have a safe environment in which to live and work, and I appreciate all you have done and will do to keep yourselves and each other healthy.
Have a great week, Lions.
Terisa C. Riley, Ph.D.
University of Arkansas Fort Smith