Valparaiso University's (VU) Student Life announced the requirement of face coverings from Aug. 17 to Sept. 6 for all students, faculty and staff regardless of vaccination status. This policy will be reevaluated after Sept. 6.
The email was sent out towards the end of VU’s summer break, where masks weren’t required as long as proof of vaccination was shown. This policy included summer visitors and FOCUS sessions. While the announcement was made five days prior to freshman move-in, the mask mandate remained an ongoing discussion.
“We were fully intending on going into a mask strongly encouraged mode to start the school year off,” said Ryan Blevins, Dean of Students.
Ultimately, President Padilla made the final decision to enforce face coverings for the initial three week period. Padilla consulted with the University Provost, the Health Center, Student Life staff, Deans of the colleges and the Porter County Health Department.
“We ultimately want students in the classrooms, we want our faculty feeling comfortable in the classrooms and we want all our students to feel comfortable on campus, so that’s why we went with [the mask mandate],” Blevins said.
The necessary criteria for the mask requirement to be lifted is dependent on a range of factors. VU will review the number of cases and health concerns within the student population, the community and the region. Additionally, CDC guidelines and information will be evaluated.
“There’s a lot of different data we’re looking at, but really we don’t want to say we’re going mask optional and have a huge Delta outbreak in the area because we have students that live on-campus and students that live off-campus in the community. We want to make sure we’re being practical with this as well,” Blevins said. “We’re always monitoring the numbers, continuously and daily.”
While the mask initiative is similar to the COVID-19 precautions during the 2020-2021 academic year, the university has removed many of them for the fall semester. VU hasn’t restricted gathering sizes nor have there been social distancing requirements.
Similarly, the CampusClear app, designed for tracking students’ daily symptoms campus wide, was among the previous guidelines VU discontinued.
“What we discovered is as the year went on, [students] needed [the app] less because they were very well aware of the symptoms you should be aware of and our students were not having any problems contacting the Health Center when they needed assistance or needed some guidance on things,” Blevins said.
Although social distancing and grouping limitations are not currently enforced, quarantining and self isolation continue to be required for those exposed to COVID. However, vaccination status determines the type of precautions taken.
“We have updated the COVID information website and there’s some guidelines there for students in case they are contact traced or directly exposed to someone and it’s going to depend if they’re vaccinated or unvaccinated, and it’s going to depend if they are symptomatic or not symptomatic,” Blevins said.
According to VU’s COVID website, Residential Life will still offer isolation spaces for on-campus residents, whereas off-campus students will need to make quarantine arrangements themselves. Vaccinated students with a meal plan through the university and in isolation will have their meals delivered. Unvaccinated residential students, dependent on staffing issues, may incur a $25 per day meal delivery charge.
In terms of quarantining, vaccinated individuals who become contact traced or directly exposed to COVID-19, showing no symptoms, may return to in-person class while wearing a mask. Students are required to take a COVID test three to five days after exposure. With symptoms or a positive test, vaccinated students will be placed temporarily in isolation.
Unvaccinated individuals, regardless if symptomatic or not, will be placed in quarantine housing after testing positive or being contact traced. The isolation period will last 10 to 14 days, or until released by the Health Center, and students will be required to take a COVID test three to five days after exposure.
Additionally, unvaccinated students are required to participate in monthly COVID tests organized by the Health Center.
“We’re really about the engagement, we’re really about getting back into the classrooms and we’re trying to get back into that Valpo experience that our students really want to have,” Blevins said.