By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
The University of Wyoming has extended for an indefinite period of time its requirement that people within its buildings wear facemasks, the university announced on Friday.
The UW Board of Trustees voted Friday to extend the mask policy, as Albany County remains in the Wyoming Department of Health’s “moderate-high transmission levels” category for COVID-19. As of Thursday, the county had 150 active COVID cases.
“Our mask policy has helped us start our traditional fall semester without a major spike in COVID cases,” UW President Ed Seidel said. “We appreciate the willingness of our community members to follow this policy in classrooms, labs and high-traffic areas such as the Wyoming Union so that we can continue with in-person learning and activities.”
There currently are 63 active coronavirus cases among UW students and employees.
The policy will be revisited in subsequent board meetings.
Exceptions to the indoor mask requirement include voluntary public events such as athletics and music, theater and dance performances; voluntary social events; and private, by-invitation events that involve rental and/or use of UW spaces on campus.
For classes where the ability to see speakers’ mouths is essential, faculty members have the ability to seek exceptions to the masking policy.
Employees and students who have legitimate medical reasons to not wear masks can seek exceptions as well.
An additional exception approved by the board is for patrons of Half Acre Recreation and Wellness Center when participating in recreational activities, sports or fitness, or when a spectator at a voluntary public recreational event. Half Acre patrons will still be required to wear masks when entering and exiting the building, at all customer service desks and in meeting rooms.
UW continues to strongly encourage COVID-19 vaccinations, as well as the reporting of those vaccinations. Those who report vaccinations become eligible for weekly prize drawings.
As of Monday, 4,282 UW students reported being vaccinated.
Of 2,877 total benefited employees, 2,191, 76.2%, reported receiving at least one vaccine dose. Adding in non-benefited employees, 3,457 of the total 6,372 staff and faculty members, 54.3 percent, reported receiving at least one dose.
In an anonymous survey at the start of the semester, 88% of employees and 66% of students said they had been vaccinated.
“We would love to see those numbers continue to increase, as vaccinations truly are the best hope for ending this pandemic,” Seidel said. “The vaccines are proven to be highly safe and effective in preventing infection and serious illness, even for the easily transmissible Delta variant.”
UW continues to conduct weekly random-sample testing of 3% of the on-campus population. The test positivity rate of 1.47% last week was down from 2.89% the week before.
The university was the first educational system in the state to require masks for the fall semester. Local school districts, such as Laramie, Albany and Teton counties, across Wyoming have begun implementing mandates as COVID cases continue to rise.