UA tightens mask mandate until Oct. 1 amid rising campus cases

Jack Maurer | @JackMaurer10, Chief Copy Editor

The University updated its mask mandate on Thursday, Sept. 2 to require face coverings in all non-residential campus buildings effective immediately. The updated requirement, which extends across the University of Alabama System, comes as COVID-19 cases among UA students, faculty and staff nearly doubled last week, reaching their highest level since January.

The new mask mandate is set to expire Oct. 1. The previous rule, which took effect Aug. 6, allowed individuals to forgo face coverings where physical distancing was possible, except in academic buildings.

The new rule makes exceptions for individuals who are physically distanced in office workspaces, in residential common areas or while teaching behind plexiglass, but otherwise applies regardless of distancing.

Like the previous mask mandate, the new requirement applies to both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. 

On Monday the UA System reported student vaccination rates for the first time, showing that 58% of students at The University of Alabama have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Among faculty and staff, 72.5% have received at least one dose.

As before, individuals are not required to wear a mask while exercising or when eating or drinking while seated at campus dining venues.

“UA COVID-19 positives continue to trend below similar timelines from last spring semester, and substantially below last fall, and this update will keep us headed in the right direction,” the University said in an email to students Thursday morning.

Last fall, 1,911 students, faculty and staff members at the University tested positive during the first 16 days after classes began, according to the UA System’s COVID-19 dashboard. In the spring, 488 students, faculty and staff members tested positive in the first 16 days after classes began.

For the current semester, classes started Aug. 18. Between Aug. 16 and 29, 334 students, faculty and staff members tested positive. But campus cases increased sharply last week to 217, nearly twice the 117 positives reported the week before.

“College of Community Health Sciences Dean Ricky Friend emphasizes the effectiveness and importance of interventions like masks and vaccinations to maintain the momentum of the full in-person fall semester experience,” the UA email said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that even fully vaccinated people wear masks in indoor public spaces where COVID-19 transmission is substantial or high, regardless of physical distancing. Across the U.S. some 94% of counties, including Tuscaloosa County, are currently experiencing high levels of transmission.