Masking Policies Lifted in Augustana Classrooms: What are the consequences of this new normal?

Chloe Baxter

On April 4, Augustana released information about mandatory masking in classrooms, stating that it was no longer required and up to faculty discretion in deciding whether or not masks should be worn in classrooms. While this was viewed as a promising step by many, this monumental decision raises concerns about the ability of faculty to enforce masking and the possible consequences of overturning the mandate only a week after the end of Spring Break.

The lifting of the mandate here at Augustana is in line with a trend among other national universities and colleges: masking is no longer required in classrooms. With this in mind, the reasoning behind the mandate being lifted — lower cases, higher vaccinations and the establishment of a new normal here on campus — is secure. 

However, this does not mean that coronavirus is irrelevant; a new ‘normal’ does not mean COVID-19 and its associated precautions are gone entirely. In fact, since the lifting of the mask mandate in indoor classroom settings in Illinois’ colleges and universities on April 4, the total number of COVID-19 cases in the state of Illinois has risen. 

“The Illinois Department of Public Health on Friday reported 2,312 new infections […] That raised the seven-day average statewide case positivity rate to 2.1%, suggesting the virus is spreading in Illinois as widely as it has since Feb. 21,” (The Chicago Sun Times).

This rise in cases can certainly be attributed in part to a reduction of mask-wearing due to the overturning of mask mandates. But, these numbers are also the result of discrepancies in vaccination rates, particularly for those who are at risk. The lack of mask requirements raises concerns about those who are at-risk on campus. Specifically, how masks will still be enforced in certain locations and the ability of faculty members to exercise authority in enforcing these measures. 

“As of Monday, April 4, masking no longer will be required in Augustana College classrooms […] individual faculty members may require masking in their classrooms if they have obtained consent from the Provost’s Office to do so. Masking also may be required if the faculty member believes that the particular classroom activities present higher risk of COVID transmission,” (Augustana College). 

With the mandate itself outlining how masking is no longer required, except if a faculty member believes it to be necessary, there may be difficulty in enforcing masking. This is based on the individuals involved, but a situation such as this is particularly dangerous given transmission rates in a small space or if a faculty member or student is at high-risk. However, I’d anticipate that the prevalence of this issue is limited given the success of the policy that masks are no longer required in larger gatherings or areas such as the Brew.

The most recent change in COVID precaution requirements, in addition to the gradual lifting of mask requirements, is also in accordance with other colleges and universities, as well as in succession to state action regarding masks. So, while there are possible consequences to the lifting of the mask requirement mandate, in terms of the rising COVID cases and the question of faculty authority on this issue, this is overall a much-needed step in the college’s pursuit of a new normal for the campus community.