|FROM:||Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil., President|
|SUBJ:||Masking Policy at Gonzaga for Spring 2022
|DATE:||March 3, 2022|
Dear Gonzaga Community:
Washington Governor Jay Inslee has announced that the state’s general “indoor mask mandate” – with some specific exceptions – will be repealed effective Friday, March 11th. As an institution of higher education (IHE) with a high-density residential population, Gonzaga has throughout this pandemic been obligated to follow certain proclamations and regulations that remain operative but are under review; as a private employer we reserve the right to enact policies based on the specific needs of our own community.
As with every significant change in policy, we have endeavored to broadly consult with members of our community in an effort to make the best decisions possible. University leadership has been in consultation with the Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD), the GU Covid Action Response Team (CART), faculty, student, and administrative leaders, and examined data that takes into account our experience of seeing COVID-19 cases rise following holiday break periods (e.g., Spring Break). Gonzaga will thus be modifying its approach to indoor masking, as follows:
Indoor use of masks will continue to be required at Gonzaga University through Friday, March 25, 2022. We believe this will help reduce the rate of viral transmission following Spring Break travel. Thereafter, the following approach to indoor mask-wearing is operative at Gonzaga University, effective March 26, 2022:
- The health-related needs of our community must drive decision-making and thus mask requirements may differ from facility to facility, by class/faculty member, and staff/department. Gonzaga will follow State and federal guidance and more broadly discontinue masking effective March 26, 2022, with the conditions listed below. Gonzaga students, faculty, staff and contractors are advised to carry a mask at all times on campus in case it is needed to enter a specific location or space. The University will continue to make masks available in numerous locations as well.
- Any individual has the right to wear a mask for any reason, without explanation, in or on any campus facility or location, free of harassment or questioning, in accordance with State law. This includes any environment where the wearing of masks is considered optional by others.
- Properly-fitting masks are required to be worn in all campus healthcare facilities (e.g., Health and Counseling Services, testing clinics, quarantine/isolation facilities, etc.). In addition, the federal government continues to require mask-wearing on public mass transportation vehicles (buses, aircraft, trains).
- Each faculty member(s) responsible for in-person classroom or lab environments has the authority to direct that every person within that environment wear properly-fitting masks while entering and attending the course/lab sessions, without explanation. Expectations for mask-wearing should be clearly communicated in advance of March 26th, although it is understood that these can and will change depending upon the circumstances.
- If a department identifies the need to have masks required after March 26th, the divisional leader (e.g., Provost, Vice or Associate Provost, Dean, Vice President) -- working together with the employees of that area – is expected to approve the protocol for mask-wearing in their respective office areas, and ensure that signage is displayed accordingly. Office spaces which require mask-wearing should continue to display the University signage developed by Marketing and Communications and available on Gonzaga SharePoint (GU login required).
It is an expectation that every member of the University Community will place the health and welfare of others at the forefront. Failure to follow the direction of a faculty member or other university official may constitute a violation of University policy, and subject the individual to disciplinary action.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have made the health, welfare, and safety of our students, employees, and visitors our top priority. We have made decisions informed by science, data, and best practices, as well as the protocols established by the State and local health authorities. We are a community of individuals with diverse needs, but our University mission brings us together in common purpose, and it is our commitment to one another that has made the successful navigation of this pandemic possible for Gonzaga.
Many within our University community have been impacted by COVID-19, either directly or indirectly, over these past two years. For some who have tested positive, the symptoms have been relatively mild, but for others, more serious and/or long-term. With deep sadness, some among us have lost family members, and this past fall one of our employees died after having contracted COVID-19. The recent surge in cases due to the omicron variant has demonstrated the durability of this virus, and with it the vulnerability of people who are immune-compromised, immune-suppressed, or without defenses (such as vaccines can provide). While we all hope that the recent surge does not re-occur, it is most likely we will be learning to contend with SARS-CoV-2 to some extent, in perpetuity.
Our Current Context
Part of moving into our new COVID-informed reality involves adopting tools and practices as circumstances suggest, or demand. Proper use of an effective mask is a relatively simple, cost-effective way of reducing transmission of respiratory illnesses, one commonly in use in healthcare settings. Keeping vaccine status current is another, even as the state of the art in vaccine technology advances and improves. Gonzaga University is advised by SRHD that masking may need to be re-introduced if another COVID-19 surge occurs. At the end of the day, our principal obligation to one another remains the same: to do everything possible to keep ourselves, and each other, safe and supported in our work and personal lives.
The Governor’s recent announcement also points to an important issue which remains operative whether a “State mask mandate” exists or not. As a work environment, Gonzaga University must create and sustain a healthy, safe workplace for all who are employed here. Faculty, staff, and third-party contractors all have rights and privileges afforded them under University policy and State and federal proclamations and regulations. These safety measures must be taken into account when considering changes to institutional policies and practices, as well.
We continue to occupy a very dynamic period in the pandemic as state and federal policies, and regulations regarding testing and vaccinations, are revised. As always, we will be in consultation both internally and externally and will provide further updates as more guidance and information becomes available. Thank you.
Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil.