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Encourage, Expect, Require: Universities Determine Mask Policies

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U.S. colleges and universities are debating whether to require masks for students and faculty this fall. South Dakota’s public universities encourage masks on campus, and four of the state’s five private institutions will require masks in most indoor settings.

Augustana University, the University of Sioux Falls, Dakota Wesleyan University and Presentation College will require masks on campus. They say CDC guidelines and scientific consensus say masks help prevent transmission of COVID 19.

Ben Iverson is chair of an Augustana planning task force. He says members debated the mask issue for over a month.

“But in the end, I think it just makes sense for a university to air on the side of caution, right? If masks—and the research seems to suggest this—if masks lend a better degree of protection, then why not do that? And why not try to keep everybody as safe as possible on campus?”

As for how the requirement will be enforced—

“Yeah, it’s a good question, and one that we maybe haven’t come to a firm answer on to be completely honest with you.”

Iverson hopes peer pressure will make enforcement a moot point. He says students also sign a health and safety pledge that can help with COVID prevention.

The question of enforcement is why Mount Marty University will not require masks in the fall. Instead, masks are “expected.”

VP for Student Success Katie Harrell says MMU is encouraging personal responsibility.

“So if that is up front and those expectations are shared, we’re hoping we don’t have to go into this policing approach," she explains. "So that’s really why we used that language. How do we put this back on the individual as they’re seeing it as they’re taking care of their community and they’re thinking of others over themselves, rather than this, ‘Nope, you have to do this and this is the only way it can be done.’”

Harrell says Mount Marty University will release a more detailed plan early next week, including its own student health pledge.

Faculty at state universities are concerned that students will not have to wear masks in classrooms. The Board of Regents meets Wednesday to discuss more about the fall semester.