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OU community expresses concerns about lack of masking, vaccine requirements as in-person classes resume, cases rise

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An OU flag in front of the Bizzell Memorial Library on July 8, 2020

As university community members return to a fully open campus for the first time since spring 2020, many have expressed apprehension about OU’s lack of masking and vaccination mandates.

OU officials have cited SB 658 and Gov. Kevin Stitt’s Executive Order 2021-16 as preventing the university from requiring masks or vaccinations, but university policy states masks are “strongly encouraged.” The Norman City Council voted 6-2 on Tuesday evening to encourage mask use and vaccination and affirmed the ability of businesses and organizations to require masks.

Michael Givel, a political science professor and president of the American Association of University Professors at OU, said with the rising number of COVID-19 cases other academic institutions are seeing, OU will soon have to make a decision on how to protect its students.

“The hard reality is that this is not going to work,” Givel said. “Already, we are getting these horrible reports from the Oklahoma City Public School System about hundreds of students who have been infected. So we have to make a decision: Are we going to listen to certain interests in the state, or perhaps certain people in state government who have this ideology about personal responsibility, or are we going to prudently protect our staff, our students, and our faculty? It (is) really coming down to that and OU is going to have to decide pretty quickly.”

OU Faculty Senate Chair Keri Kornelson wrote in a statement she has heard mixed reports about the classroom experiences during the past couple of days.

“In some classes the instructor and nearly all the students are wearing masks while in other classes, masks are rare,” Kornelson said. “For those of you wearing masks while indoors, I appreciate your efforts to keep the OU community healthy. I also encourage President Harroz, Provost Wright, and Dean Surratt to continue to send a very clear and persistent message that masking in class and at indoor events is expected at OU to keep everyone safe and together.”

Some OU professors have also taken to Twitter to share their experiences with returning to on-campus classes amid the pandemic.

With the rise of case numbers due to the delta variant, many students have also tweeted they feel unsafe on campus due to the lack of mask usage.

Student Government Association President Tavana Farzaneh tweeted a callout Monday night asking for students’ experiences being on campus without a mask mandate. Several students expressed surprise at the lack of COVID-19 precautions in their classes.

Speech pathology sophomore Maria Fernanda Guzman said though she’s concerned about being on campus, about half the students in her classes have been wearing masks.

“We just have to respect everybody’s choice and the way they take precautions,” Guzman said. “If they choose to wear a mask, awesome, and if they don’t, then that’s their choice. I think it would have been an easier transition to bring back fully in-person classes if people wore masks.”

Citlali Vazquez is a journalism junior and news reporter at The Daily.

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