Students share their thoughts on Ball State’s indoor mask mandate

<p>Junior theater major Emma Grow runs on the treadmill Feb. 22, 2021, at the Jo Ann Gora Student Recreation and Wellness Center. While social distancing will not be observed as strictly as in the 2020-21 school year, people will still be required to wear masks on campus in indoor facilities regardless of their vaccination status. <strong>Jaden Whiteman, DN File</strong></p>

Junior theater major Emma Grow runs on the treadmill Feb. 22, 2021, at the Jo Ann Gora Student Recreation and Wellness Center. While social distancing will not be observed as strictly as in the 2020-21 school year, people will still be required to wear masks on campus in indoor facilities regardless of their vaccination status. Jaden Whiteman, DN File

How to report vaccination or test status

Both vaccinated and unvaccinated students will use the same fall student return portal and click the response that fits them — either that they are fully vaccinated, have received a negative test within a week of returning to campus or received a positive COVID-19 test within the past 90 days. Test results require photographic proof, while vaccine confirmation does not.

Regardless of their responses on the form, students must also certify they will be held accountable for providing false information to the university.

Unvaccinated students need to self-quarantine at home between their testing date and the date they return to campus. If students receive an inconclusive test result, they should get tested again.

Students with negative test results must wait for university administrators to confirm their test result is accepted. Students with positive test results will be provided with instructions to isolate for 10 days after symptoms begin and will be welcomed back to campus after being fever-free for 24 hours.

Students who reported a positive COVID-19 test result to the university on or after May 25, 2021 meet the 90-days exception, but still have to submit an image of the positive test result before the fall 2021 semester begins.

Unvaccinated students may be tested regularly throughout the semester to ensure the health and safety of campus.

For more information regarding Ball State’s pre-arrival testing protocols, visit the frequently asked questions web page.

Source: Ball State COVID-19 web page

Though Ball State’s campus is returning to mostly in-person learning, activity fairs, sporting events and club activities, the COVID-19 pandemic is still taking its toll on the usual operations of the university. While fully vaccinated students and staff will be free to socialize without keeping their distance from each other, face masks will be required for everyone indoors.

Ball State President Geoffrey Mearns announced Aug. 4 the reimplementation of a university mask mandate to begin the fall semester. He said he may consider lifting the mask protocol if enough students and staff report they are fully vaccinated. Kathy Wolf, vice president for marketing and communications, said Mearns will monitor the need for masks weekly, seeing if the delta variant has caused a surge in COVID-19 cases. 

“There is not a number or percentage of fully vaccinated students, faculty and staff that will automatically lead to a lifting of the university’s current indoor mask protocol,” Wolf said via email. “Ball State will continue to rely on the expertise of the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and other public health experts to inform our university’s health and safety protocols.”

Lydia Rusin, sophomore elementary education major who was fully vaccinated in May, said she supported the university mask mandate.

“Clearly, not enough people are vaccinated and that’s what’ll keep us all safe, especially with the delta variant,” she said. “COVID is still a very real and very dangerous threat, and until the university or the government mandates the vaccine, we need to keep our masks on.”

Nathan Earle, junior social studies education major who was fully vaccinated in May, said he supports the university mask protocol just as much as he did before people started to get vaccinated.

“The mask wasn’t a big deal then, and it isn’t now,” he said. “Being willing to sacrifice your personal comfort for the safety of those around you is a selfless act. While I hate wearing the thing, this is the best decision for the time being.”

Earle said he would be comfortable not wearing a mask if the mandate is lifted and if COVID-19 cases are low and reported vaccination rates among students are high.

Heather Hilliard, junior speech pathology and Spanish double major, said she doesn’t support the indoor mask mandate unless the university is more diligent in monitoring students. She said she hopes the mandate is lifted within a few months.

“We had this rule in place last year and students never seemed to remember and there wasn’t enough enforcement behind it,” Hilliard said. “There is too much grey area between dining halls and other spaces where kids will push their luck.”

Hilliard said she hasn’t been vaccinated yet and is waiting on additional approval from the Food and Drug Administration so she knows the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective against variants.

Wolf said 42 percent of students taking on-campus classes or living in university housing have reported they are fully vaccinated as of Aug. 10. She said more than 65 percent of Ball State’s on-campus employees have reported they are vaccinated on the COVID-19 vaccine completion form in the fall return portal.

Olivia Campbell, junior advertising major who was fully vaccinated in April, said she supports the mandate until more people report they are vaccinated, but even then, she doesn’t know how lifting the mandate would work safely.

“Despite some students and staff being fully vaccinated, this is the right choice for our university,” Campbell said. “I’m also concerned with how the mask mandate will work if it is lifted. How can we guarantee that students and staff who aren’t vaccinated are following the rules?”

RELATED: Ball State announces COVID-19 surveillance testing details for unvaccinated students

Unvaccinated students living in university housing or taking at least one on-campus class must report a negative test result on the fall student return portal with a photo of the test results.

Rapid antigen testing is available at Worthen Arena from Aug. 13–25. Students must schedule a testing date and arrive at Worthen Arena between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. that day. Tests are administered on a first come, first serve basis. Students should bring their Ball State ID or a photo ID, a smartphone with the NAVICA App downloaded and a face mask to wear. Results are usually available within 30 minutes of the test through the NAVICA App and are emailed to students on the same day as their test.

Maya Wilkins also contributed to this article.

Contact Grace McCormick with comments at grmccormick@bsu.edu or on Twitter @graceMc564.

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