How colleges are responding to the CDC’s new mask guidelines

by Jeremy

The wide availability of coronavirus vaccines led colleges to prepare for a more typical fall term, including by loosening mask mandates. But new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week already unraveled some of those plans. In a break from its previous guidance, the CDC said people who’ve been vaccinated should wear masks while indoors in areas of the country where there is “substantial or high” coronavirus transmission.

The recent spread of the highly contagious delta variant, which makes up most new coronavirus infections in the U.S., triggered the change. At the same time, the vast majority of coronavirus-related deaths are among the unvaccinated. Evidence indicates vaccinated people infected with the delta variant can spread the virus to others.

The CDC’s change will majorly impact colleges. Two-thirds of counties have levels of virus transmission that warrant indoor mask-wearing, according to the agency. In turn, some colleges have reimposed or implemented mask mandates for the fall. One of those institutions is Duke University, in North Carolina, which will require all students, employees, and campus visitors to wear masks starting Friday by the new CDC guidance. And the Nevada System of Higher Education is instituting a similar requirement for the state’s public colleges.

Yet, not all colleges can or will add indoor mask mandates. Local transmission rates are too low for CDC guidelines to play for some schools, while others have their hands tied by state policies. Colleges will have to continue agile and creative to navigate an evolving public health crisis while following these laws. This once again will cause schools to have to look at and evaluate what they had initially planned and tweak those plans accordingly,” said Anita Barkin, co-chair of the American College Health Association’s COVID-19 task force.

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