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OU administrators discuss new masking policy, possibility of vaccine mandate in faculty town hall

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David Surratt

OU Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Affairs David Surratt during the OU class of 2025 kick-off on Aug. 13.

Vice Provost for Instruction and Student Success Mark Morvant and Vice President and Dean of Students David Surratt led a discussion with faculty members over the university masking policy implemented Monday and the possibility of a vaccine mandate in a Tuesday Zoom town hall meeting. 

The new policy states if a student tests positive in class for COVID-19, the class will continue to meet, but with a mandatory masking policy for two weeks. According to OU Law professor Joseph Thai, SB 658 and Gov. Kevin Stitt’s Executive Order 2021-16 does not have exceptions that allow mask mandates when there’s a positive COVID-19 case in a classroom.  

Surratt said he expected the “majority” of students will comply with the policy if faculty communicates with students on masking expectations and requirements. 

Thai said in a Monday statement OU’s policy change doesn’t make public health sense, as students who don’t want to mask — or expect blowback from classmates who don’t want to mask — may not report positive test results. 

If a student does not comply or is disruptive and in a setting where social distancing is not adequate, it is the professor’s individual call to cancel class, according to Morvant.

Other measures in place to keep classrooms safe include providing KN95 masks to professors “while supplies are there” through the Center for Faculty Excellence, Morvant said. If faculty needs sanitizer and disposable masks, they are encouraged to reach out to their building coordinator. 

Morvant also said the university is looking into the “legal ramifications” of a potential vaccination mandate. 

A university spokesperson said in an email OU is working to address healthcare needs while also "carefully monitoring" legal constraints in Oklahoma. 

Surratt said an “additional 2,000 antigen tests” had been ordered to mitigate scheduling issues at Goddard, though he said there were open appointments for both vaccinations and testing. OU is also working on getting self-administered tests.  

“We're trying to see if we can get additional supplies of those and make those available for folks, especially after hours,”  Surratt said. “Particularly for students in areas where there's congregate housing, as well as in the Union, so we're working on that too.”

Surratt encouraged the use of the Healthy Together app among students and faculty, stating it sends notifications of potential or confirmed exposure in a “much more timely manner” so protocols for temporary mask mandates can quickly be put in place. 

“The other reason why it's important for faculty to encourage it is because we have to remind students that in order to receive accommodations, that is the formal process to request that,” Surratt said. “Otherwise, there's no way of documenting it.”

Surratt said Goddard is unable to track public health data if people do not use the app, further incentivizing students, faculty and staff to download it. Students with non-domestic phone numbers or those who have difficulty utilizing the app are encouraged to reach out to faculty as well as his office. 

“I just want all the faculty to know that the emergency operation committee is meeting weekly, the executive policy group is meeting weekly, we get updates from Dale, we get updates from Craig Rice and Goddard, we get updates on housing isolations,” Morvant said, “We are following the data, we are following the hospitalizations (and) where the hospitalizations were last Friday. ... We're at a position that we're very comfortable in.”

This article was updated at 3:48 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 1, to include a university statement. 

Katie Hallum is a journalism and international area studies double major who joined The Daily's news desk in spring 2021. Katie is a Tahlequah, Oklahoma native and citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

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