Indoor Masking Requirement Reinstated, Effective August 16, 2021

TO: The Gonzaga Community
FROM: Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil., President
SUBJ: Indoor Masking Requirement Reinstated, Effective August 16, 2021
DATE: August 15, 2021

In preparation for the beginning of Fall Semester – a wonderful time of welcoming new students and colleagues – many students essential to the opening of the university have already arrived and begun their work. Student-athletes who participate in fall sports arrived during these past couple of weeks; Residence Hall staff and New Student Orientation leaders have also returned to begin their training. This coming week, we will welcome the first-year Law students to campus for their Orientation, as well as new faculty colleagues. We are rapidly moving from summer into “start of year” mode.

As you will undoubtedly have noticed, COVID-19 positive cases are once more on the increase – not only nationally, but locally as well. This increase does appear to be fueled by the “delta variant” which has been so much in the news of late. This variant appears to be so powerful that some number of fully vaccinated individuals are being infected by it. (Recent data indicates that the vaccines are still extremely effective, with 95% of current hospitalizations involving unvaccinated individuals.) There is significant concern that the increase in cases is going to continue for some weeks to come, and with it a concern that treating vulnerable people will once again overwhelm our city’s health care system.

Due to the large numbers of people coming together from many different places, the numerous viral variants circulating in the world, and the fundamental obligation we all have to protect ourselves and each other – effective tomorrow, Monday, August 16, we are requiring all students, employees, contract partners and visitors on campus, vaccinated or not, to wear face coverings (e.g., masks) in congregate indoor spaces (e.g., classrooms, labs, large meeting areas, and gathering spaces) where numerous people are gathering in close proximity to each other. It is assumed that small groups of fully vaccinated individuals may safely gather without masks, for example while eating in dining facilities, residing in campus housing, and gathering in small offices or meeting areas. In consultation with the Spokane Regional Health District, certain areas (e.g., the Rudolf Fitness Center) will operate with specific protocols. We hope to relax mask protocols once we have a sense of the incidence of COVID-19 in our community, but will continue to require face coverings into (at least) the first several weeks of the fall semester. Per State requirements, all unvaccinated individuals are required to wear masks in congregate indoor spaces.

Our focus in re-introducing the masking requirement is to add an additional preventative measure in a community that has already a very high percentage of fully vaccinated individuals. The breakthrough infections are an indication that even highly effective vaccines are not 100% effective for all individuals. This is why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given its formal authorization to provide adults with weakened immune systems a third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. And of course, it is still the case that children under the age of 12 are not yet able to receive the vaccines at all. So let’s keep working together to break the chain of infection, and do everything possible to keep ourselves, and our fellow community members, as safe and healthy as possible during these next several weeks. Thank you.

P.S. For more about the impact of the delta variant on the trajectory of the pandemic, take a look at Pulitzer Prize winning science reporter Ed Yong’s most recent piece in The Atlantic here.