Mask mandate likely for fall semester, says UA provost

Zach Johnson | @ZachJohnsonCW, News Editor

UPDATE Thursday, Aug. 5 at 4:40 p.m. The University of Alabama reinstated its indoor mask policy for all students, regardless of vaccination status. The mandate goes into effect on Friday, Aug. 6.

UA Provost James Dalton said there is a high likelihood of a campus-wide mask mandate for the fall semester. Dalton shared the information with Faculty Senate Vice President Matthew Hudnall in a call on Monday, about two weeks ahead of the first day of classes. 

In an email to Faculty Senate members, Hudnall said the University has contingency plans and will release updated messaging soon. 

The current UA Health and Safety Plan released on July 20 prepares for a return to pre-pandemic operations, including a full return to in-person instruction. Hudnall said in his email that faculty members should expect to wear masks in classrooms and that hybrid instruction should be avoided “if at all possible.” 

“The burden and experience of hybrid teaching proved to be a bad experience in the past,” Hudnall wrote. “So ideally, instruction will be done in person. In certain situations, synchronous Zoom will be the fallback option.” 

Hudnall said faculty are expected to conform to campus policy and are dissuaded from promoting any policies that conflict with UA health and safety guidance. 

Alabama Senate Bill 267, which prohibits entities from requiring an individual to receive an immunization as a condition for government benefits or services, prevents the University from mandating a COVID-19 vaccine. Instead, there will be a “modest increase” planned for the $20 Bama Cash incentive awarded to students who report vaccinations. 

Dalton said at least 70% of faculty and staff have reported COVID-19 vaccinations. The University has not released an official report, but about 10% of students had uploaded proof of vaccination by July 30, according to Senior Associate Vice President of Student Life Steven Hood.  

Per the UA System’s current Health and Safety Plan, campuses may “authorize additional face covering restrictions for a period of up to four weeks” if campus medical professionals feel that COVID-19 risks warrant additional restrictions.

Hudnall declined requests for comment. Dalton and the University’s Division of Strategic Communications did not respond to a phone call or email request in time for publication. 

Correction: Matthew Hudnall is the vice president of the Faculty Senate.