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OU implements two-week mask mandate, recommends virtual meetings as COVID-19 cases rise

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An OU flag in front of the Bizzell Memorial Library.

OU Chief COVID Officer Dr. Dale Bratlzer announced changes to the university’s COVID-19 policies, including a mask mandate in all classroom settings through Jan. 31. 

The changes come as the highly transmissible omicron variant — which accounted for 95 percent of sequenced cases in the U.S. since the beginning of January — triggers climbing COVID-19 case numbers with a seven-day average of 6,829 cases in Oklahoma. Bratzler wrote in an email to the Norman campus that provisional measures are being instituted to safeguard OU community members and preserve the institution’s “continuity of service” to students. 

The two-week mask mandate will begin during the first week of classes on Jan. 18, Bratzler wrote. On Feb. 1, the Norman campus will revert to its Fall 2021 masking guidance, which expects masking in classrooms and requires it during a two-week quarantine period after a positive COVID-19 case is confirmed. 

Although cloth masks are still allowed, Bratzler wrote that OU strongly recommends wearing KN95 masks or disposable surgical masks as they provide more protection against the omicron variant. KN95 and disposable surgical masks will be made available to OU community members, and Campus Safety will provide masks to building supervisors to make them available at all entrances and inside classrooms.

Individuals in need of health accommodations should contact the Accessibility and Disability Resource Center, Bratzler wrote.

Bratzler wrote that, if “reasonable,” in-person meetings, events and classes should be accomplished virtually. If in-person meetings are necessary, masks will be expected, and social distancing is recommended. 

As students and staff arrive on campus, Bratzler wrote it is likely there will be absences. Faculty should prepare for the likelihood of these extended absences by following the Fall 2021 faculty instructional continuity guidance, which details university recommendations. 

Building managers are also asked to use discretion in instituting operational changes to their units to ensure work continuity and service offerings. Managers can contact Human Resources for additional guidance. 

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bratzler wrote OU has sought to implement protocols that will protect its community while allowing the institution to continue offering its in-person experience. He wrote there is “no perfect balancing of those priorities,” and attributed the maintenance of this “life-changing in-person experience” to the vigilance of community members. 

Oklahoma State University implemented a similar two-week required masking period, while the University of Tulsa implemented a one-week mask mandate beginning Jan. 10

While OSU acknowledged that state statutes — specifically Executive Order 2021-16 and 70 O.S. 1210.189 — are intended to prevent universities from applying mask mandates, the university’s website reads that “exceptions exist” when mandates are limited to classroom settings or when a classroom has had a positive test in the last two weeks.

The Daily asked Oklahoma State why these situations would not constitute a violation of state law on Jan. 7. No response was received from OSU before publication. OU was asked the same question following Bratzler’s announcement Monday morning, and this article will be updated with the university’s response.

News managing editor

Jillian Taylor is a journalism junior and news managing editor at The Daily. Previously, she served as a summer editor-in-chief, assistant news managing editor, news editor, senior culture reporter and senior news reporter.

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