MSU, UM, call for indoor masks as fall semester kicks off

Presidents don’t call for mandates just yet

By: - August 18, 2021 5:25 pm

Face masks (Anna Shvets/Pexels)

Wear your face masks indoors on campus.

That’s the message this week from Montana State University President Waded Cruzado and University of Montana President Seth Bodnar to students, faculty and staff. Both presidents cited the highly transmissible delta variant as one reason for their requests and also urged people to get COVID-19 vaccinations.

“As we are about to launch a new academic year, I am writing to communicate that all students, faculty, staff and visitors will need to wear face masks in indoor campus spaces at Montana State University,” wrote Cruzado in a message to the campus. “Unless rescinded, this decision will be in effect until Friday, Oct. 1. The university will revisit the need for wearing face masks in indoor campus spaces and issue new guidance on or before that date, as needed.”

However, Cruzado said in the message that mandates “foment dissension and division.” She also said she understands people find pandemic-related mandates “odious,” and they require enforcement, so she is asking people to voluntarily wear their masks because it is the right thing to do. 

“So, I ask you, can we commit to wearing face masks indoors, not because we fear enforcement but rather because we understand why it is important for us to have a semester with a full campus experience?” she said in the note sent Tuesday afternoon. “My strong appeal to all of us as members of the same community is that we do this together because it is needed — not because it is mandated or required.”

Bodnar also said UM is urging but not requiring masks, and he said the university will revisit its stance on Sept. 20. He noted the uptick in cases in Missoula County has placed it in a “high risk” zone based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and he pointed to advice from health officials that says masks can help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

None of us are happy to see the resurgence of COVID-19, and we all long for a time when we can return to full normalcy on our campus with masks a distant memory,” Bodnar said in his message. “That time will come! But at this moment, we must come together as a UM family, treating each other with compassion, kindness and respect. If we each take small steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, we will enable and protect the vibrant campus our students deserve and the experiences that are so vital to their development. As we’ve said from the start, we are in this together, and we will get through this together.”

Earlier this week, faculty leaders with the Montana University System asked the Montana Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education and Board of Regents to issue a systemwide mask mandate, citing “grave concerns” from professors. However, the Commissioner’s Office said in an earlier message that it does not support a mask mandate for all campuses at this time.

The situation could change as the semester and pandemic unfold. In her note, Cruzado said a mandate is possible based on the circumstances: “If there is rampant disregard for the need to wear face masks in indoor spaces or if the number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations in Gallatin County shows a sustained increase, MSU will revert to mandating face masks for every faculty, student and staff member.”

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana.