OU Senior Vice President and Provost André-Denis Wright announced Monday if a student in a class tests positive for COVID-19, that class can continue to meet in person but must wear masks for two weeks, which he wrote is “within the boundaries of the law.”
In an email, Wright asked faculty to encourage students to complete the Healthy Together COVID-19 passport in the case of a positive COVID-19 case. Students will receive their screening results and next-step instructions through the app.
Communication “can be forwarded” by the student to “inform faculty of the need for accommodations and request for extended absence.” Faculty “can accept” the information, Wright wrote.
OU hasn’t enacted a campus-wide mask mandate, as it interprets Oklahoma Senate Bill 658 and Gov. Stitt’s Executive Order 2021-16 to bar requiring masks and vaccines. University policy “strongly encourages” masking indoors and in high-density settings.
Oklahoma Senate Bill 658 prohibits certain entities — such as a board of education of a public or technology center school district, the board of regents of an institution within the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education, the governing board of a private postsecondary educational institution, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education and the State Board of Education or Career and Technology — from implementing a mask mandate for students not vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a university spokesperson.
The executive order reads all buildings and office space owned or leased by the State of Oklahoma and open to the public shall rescind any mask mandate in order to receive government services. It also reads all state agencies are prohibited from requiring a COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of admittance to any public building.
However, a group of OU Law faculty — including OU Law professor Joseph Thai — compiled a report before the fall semester stating the two laws do not prohibit OU, or its departments and faculty from requiring masking, but only prohibits OU from adopting narrow mask mandates targeting unvaccinated students.
In an email to The Daily, Thai wrote Monday there is “no exception” in SB 658 or Stitt’s executive order that allows mask mandates when there is a confirmed COVID-19 case in a classroom.
“If OU now believes it can legally mandate masking — as OU law faculty have explained — it should require masking not only after students get sick, but also before, to prevent infection in the first place,” Thai wrote.
Thai also wrote there's no legal merit to the university's argument that it can mandate masks only after a student gets sick. It doesn't make public health sense either, as students who don't want to mask — or expect blowback from classmates who don't want to mask — won't report their infectious status, he added.
"An ounce of prevention (masking before a Covid case) is worth a pound of cure (masking only after)," Thai wrote.
In the email, Wright asked faculty to share a video of OU President Joseph Harroz urging students to wear masks in class. Harroz said in the video masking indoors, especially in classrooms and hallways, is “expected” at OU.
“Masking up for class protects you and those around you,” Harroz said. “Especially if you or others are unvaccinated.”
The OU community can receive a COVID-19 test through OU Health Services and may cover the cost by filing a claim with their insurance provider. Uninsured OU members will not be charged.
In the email, Wright wrote faculty and staff have requested access to KN95 masks for classroom use, and a limited supply will be available in the Center for Faculty Excellence from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“Again, please wear your mask, and if you haven’t already, and are able to do so, please get vaccinated,” Wright wrote. “Thank you for doing your part to keep us together.”
This article was updated at 6:26 p.m. Monday, Aug. 30, to include further comment from OU Law professor Joseph Thai.