UK loosens mask policy as spring break approaches

Kendall Staton

The University of Kentucky transitioned to a mask-optional policy in certain spaces and at certain events beginning on March 9.

UK president Eli Capilouto sent a campus-wide email on March 8 detailing an updated campus mask policy. The new policy allows for individuals to choose whether they wear a mask in common areas across campus.

The Gatton Student Center, common areas or hallways of classroom buildings, dining halls, libraries, workout facilities and residence halls are all listed in the new policy as mask-optional spaces.

Masks will also be optional during voluntary events. Capilouto listed examples such as Campus Ruckus, concerts, theatrical performances and athletic events as events where masks are not required.

The new policy also states that performing arts classes can operate under a mask-optional policy during performance settings.

While the new policy allows for leniency in common spaces, not all areas on campus are becoming mask optional. Classrooms, laboratories and private offices where more than one person are gathered will retain a mask mandate.

UK HealthCare facilities are exempt from any of the above mask policy changes.

Capilouto stated the university is looking to continue expanding the scope of the mask-optional policy, excluding in healthcare facilities, following commencements in May.

“As always, we will continue to follow emerging science and data, and if conditions warrant, we won’t hesitate to change policies and processes as part of our commitment to keeping our community healthy and safe,” he said.

UK spokesperson Jay Blanton cited new CDC guidelines as influencing the change in the campus mask policy. With new CDC guidelines expanding the number of places in which masks are recommended to be optional, he said the university made an informed decision.

“Over the last couple of years, CDC guidance has informed a lot of what we’ve done,” Blanton said. “It hasn’t always been the specific thing of what we’ve done, but it has certainly informed much of what we have.”

Blanton said Capilouto used information from the CDC and UK’s START team, as well as input from UK students, faculty and staff to make the decision of updating the mask policy. UK’s START team is a group of UK HealthCare physicians, clinical experts and research leaders who provide advice to the administration on health and safety issues directly related to the COVID pandemic.

“If you look at the accumulation of all of that data, of that feedback cycle, once we had all the information and had time to consider, the president thought that he had the information that he needed to go ahead and move forward with some modifications in the policies,” Blanton said.

Meg Pangborn, a sophomore psychology major, believes the updated policy is a good move. She said the high vaccination rate on UK’s campus makes the policy update acceptable.

Pangborn believes the policy is a good compromise because if students don’t want to wear a mask, they don’t have to, and if they are uncomfortable with that, they have the option to keep wearing one.

“I think it’s a happy medium,” she said. “It’s not like people have to not wear them.”

Senior UK Faculty Lecturer Allyson DeVito was not surprised by UK’s announcement. She said based on the science and the fact that masks are now optional in Lexington City government offices, it makes sense that UK has re-evaluated its policy.

DeVito noticed a lot of students not complying with the previous mask mandate in the past few weeks.

“Walking around campus in some of those areas where it’s now becoming optional, it seems that in some cases people were already treating it as optional,” she said. “I didn’t see a lot of people wearing a mask if they were in the dining hall or Starbucks in the library.”

DeVito said the downward trend of COVID cases warranted a change in policy. She also pointed out that there is no set date of when masks will be optional in classrooms, wondering when that change will occur.

Blanton said the choice to keep masks in the classroom was based on the requirement of individuals to be present. In areas that individuals are choosing to go, such as arts performances or common areas on campus, the mask optional policy made the most sense.

“If you look at spaces where people are required to be, those are pretty confined spaces. In spaces where you’re opting to go, generally speaking, it’s a larger space,” he said. “So if it’s a voluntary kind of event, I think we decided that a mask-optional policy made sense at this point.”

Accounting and finance double major Max Hazel thinks the updated mask policy is ill-timed. With spring break around the corner, the optional mask policy is disappointing to him.

“I think the mask policy is actually really stupid,” he said. “Especially right before Spring Break when everybody’s leaving, I think it’s really poor timing.”

Hazel, however, does not plan to continue wearing his mask in common areas but believes everyone else should.

Blanton iterated that the policy is elastic, and changes can be made if COVID numbers increase after spring break. He cited current COVID numbers as a good first step in the downward trend of COVID cases.

Blanton hopes that if these trends continue, UK will be in a position to remove masks altogether in the near future.

Hazel’s roommate, marketing major Manuel Hernandes, has no issue with the updated policy. While everyone will now have the choice to not wear a mask, he personally will continue to wear his on campus.

“I think it’s the right and safe thing to do, but if other people don’t, it’s fine,” Hernandes said.