WU reinstates indoor mask requirement

| Editor-in-Chief
Red and white balloons sit on the floor in front of a wood-paneled wall labeled "Washington University" with the university's seal.

Balloons lie on the floor of the Sumers Welcome Center. All people, regardless of vaccination status, are now required to wear masks at indoor gatherings or meetings at Washington University. (Photo by Curran Neenan | Student Life)

Washington University reinstated an indoor mask requirement Monday morning for the Danforth and School of Medicine campuses, announcing in an email to students, faculty, staff and trainees that all people regardless of vaccination status must wear masks at indoor gatherings or meetings of any size.

The change, which comes after St. Louis city and county became some of the first large local governments in the nation to bring back mask mandates for indoor public spaces, underscores the uncertainty facing the University community as regional COVID-19 case counts rise once again while administrators prepare for a semester they have said will look “more like college.”

Masks are not required in private offices or rooms when doors are closed, and people can remove masks to eat or drink if they follow six-foot distancing guidelines, which are otherwise only required for unvaccinated individuals. “Masks are encouraged but not required for outdoor activities,” the email said.

Saint Louis University announced its own indoor masking policy on Friday, when city and county officials first previewed the mask mandates. 

“We thought it would be a good idea to review the city and county mandates this morning before sending our message, to make sure our guidance was consistent with what was happening in the region,” Washington University Vice Chancellor for Marketing and Communications Julie Flory wrote in an email to Student Life.

The University had previously relaxed many of its COVID-19 policies during the summer months. Since May 21, fully vaccinated individuals could go maskless when there were 30 or fewer people present in non-clinical or “semi-private” environments such as offices, labs and classrooms, and there were no more physical distancing requirements at the medical school, where the University said in May more than 80% of faculty, trainees and staff had been fully vaccinated. 

At the Danforth Campus, the University ended physical distancing requirements for fully vaccinated people on July 2, citing “promising initial estimates of vaccination rates among Danforth Campus faculty, staff and students.” That policy remained in effect Monday, but unvaccinated people must continue to follow the six-foot rules. Masking is required outdoors for unvaccinated people when distancing is not possible, and all people except for fully vaccinated employees are supposed to use the University’s self-screening tool before coming to campus. People can call the COVID Call Center at 314-362-5056 to report symptoms or exposure and to arrange a free test.

The University is requiring full vaccination for students, faculty, staff and trainees before the start of the fall semester. Students were required to submit vaccine documentation or requests for medical or religious exemptions by July 15 through the student health portal, while faculty, staff and trainees must provide proof of full vaccination by August 30. Penalties for University faculty and staff who do not comply range from lack of access to University facilities to unpaid suspension or termination, while students will be excluded from University facilities, activities and programs, administratively withdrawn from classes and have their Residential Life housing contracts terminated.

The University stopped updating its COVID-19 dashboard on May 20.

“We will continue to monitor the situation closely and will adjust our policies as needed to protect the health and safety of all members of our community,” the University’s email said. 

What else is happening ahead of the fall semester?

Residential Life changes housing assignments for 150 students after WU admits ‘unexpectedly large’ freshman class, frustrating sophomores

Implementation of Public Safety Committee’s recommendations to begin shifting mental health crisis response away from WUPD

WU suspends all fall study abroad programs, citing spread of COVID-19 variants


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