FRANKFORT, Ky. — The presidents of all of Kentucky’s public four-year universities, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System and the Council on Postsecondary Education issued a joint statement Friday, Aug. 6, saying all schools will require masks regardless of vaccination status.
The statement said the decision came after consideration of the CDC’s updated guidelines, consultation with public health officials and the current spike in cases due to the highly contagious COVID-19 delta variant.
What You Need To Know
- The school presidents issued a joint statement on mask mandates
- The requirement took effect Monday, Aug. 9, at UofL and UK
- UK President Eli Capilouto added that unvaccinated students will take an entry test "in the coming days" and will be tested regularly throughout the school year
- UofL said unvaccinated university members are required to get tested regularly starting Aug. 17
The announcement came after both the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky issued guidelines to students, faculty, staff and anyone planning to be on campus.
The joint statement said, "As college and university presidents, we stand united in our commitment to provide a high-quality educational experience for our students in the safest manner possible for everyone in our communities. We urge students, faculty, or staff members that have not yet been vaccinated to consider doing so immediately. This is the most effective way to keep you, your loved ones, your colleagues, your fellow students, and those around you safe from this disease."
Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education President Dr. Aaron Thompson said he was hoping it would be a more normal school year without mask requirements, but that wasn't possible given current community spread of COVID-19. He said Kentucky’s public colleges and universities are used to pivoting plans when necessary. Thompson said last year, Kentucky’s colleges and universities had lower positivity rates than the communities around them.
“The reason why is we are focused heavily on making sure students stay safe,” said Thompson. “As the delta variant is clearly excelling and communities went into the red zone and it looked like that was going to continue in that way, we wanted to make sure we could open our public institutions to give the kind of academic social, emotional and cultural environment that our students ask for.”
Thompson wants it to be clear that they have the ability to take the mask mandate away. He said he looks forward to rescinding the mask requirements on Kentucky college and university campuses when it is safe to do so.
That mask requirement is for campus buildings, but Thompson is urging students to do their part as well. He encourages people to get vaccinated, thought that is not a requirement for enrollment at any of Kentucky’s public colleges and universities. He also urges students to practice precaution when they are off campus as well.
“We don’t want to do virtual school sitting alone. We do virtual all the time, but we don’t want that to be our main option. We want to give students the ability to choose the direction they need to go in getting their learning,” said Thompson. “With that, it’s up to each of us, whether we are on campus or off campus, to make this thing go down.”
Each campus will provide its own guidance regarding mask guidelines:
President Eli Capilouto said that members of his senior administration met Thursday with elected faculty, staff and student leaders "to give them an update on our work to protect UK and to hear their feedback and concerns." He added that the university's START team of health professionals also met Thursday to make recommendations.
Other committees have met recently and members of his cabinet have been seeking feedback, Capilouto said.
"The consensus was clear that mandatory indoor masking is a prudent and appropriate step, given rising rates of COVID-19 infections, dominated by a more transmissible variant," he said.
In his letter, Capilouto provided more detail about when and where masks will be required. Masks are not required for two people who have both been vaccinated while meeting in an office. Similarly, if a student is in a residence hall room and is with their roommate or has a guest — and everyone is vaccinated — a mask is not required. Masks are also not required for anyone alone in indoor or outdoor spaces; however, Capilouto said unvaccinated people should wear masks outside when around other people.
In gathering areas like hallways, conference rooms and lobbies, masks should be worn by everyone, Capilouto said.
"As soon as we have tangible signs that the incidence of the virus is declining, as has been the case recently in other countries such as Great Britain, we hope to be positioned to remove this requirement," he said.
Capilouto added that unvaccinated students will take an entry test "in the coming days" and will be tested regularly throughout the school year until they're vaccinated or provide the school with verification of that status. He said that unvaccinated students must also continue to fill out daily health screeners.
"To protect our campus, we will begin considering these options for staff and faculty as well — mandatory vaccines and mandatory testing on a regular basis," Capilouto wrote.
On Wednesday, UK HealthCare announced it will require a COVID-19 vaccination for all health care providers, staff, trainees, learners and those who work in its facilities.
"We will be considering such measures throughout the campus as well as part of a thorough and comprehensive examination of options to keep our community healthy and safe," Capilouto said about the requirement.
The vaccination percentage among returning students, faculty and staff continues to increase and is now more than 70%, according to Capilouto. Since last week, more than 2,000 students, faculty and staff have self-reported to the university, verifying that they have been vaccinated, he said.
In an email sent to UofL students and obtained by Spectrum News 1, masks will be required by all university members in public, indoor spaces. UofL defines these areas as "any space inside a campus building that is not considered a private room or private office." Indoor classrooms, labs, common areas, libraries, hallways, elevators and restrooms are all considered public spaces that are subject to the mask requirement.
Anyone on campus who is not vaccinated will need to undergo regular testing beginning Aug. 17. Students, faculty and staff will be required to get tested multiple times during established testing periods.
The school also has protocols in place for students coming to UofL from out-of-state. Anyone coming to UofL will need to upload their vaccination information into the school's health portal.
As of the fall semester 2020 there were 23,246 students enrolled at UofL. In the student email, the school said 30% of students and 67.7% of faculty and staff are fully vaccinated. The number is higher among student athletes with 85% fully vaccinated.