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Faculty, students weigh in on lifted mask restrictions

Faculty, students weigh in on lifted mask restrictions

Faculty, students weigh in on lifted mask restrictions
June 10
12:00 2021

As of May 18, the university has stopped requiring face masks to be worn anywhere on campus, following an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott. 

The order, GA-36, mandates that all government entities and officials, including counties, cities and school districts, are prohibited to enforce mask-wearing rules in any space, regardless of an individual’s vaccination status. Anyone who attempts to mitigate the order can face a fine up to $1000. The governor said the action came as a result of decreasing hospitalizations related to COVID-19 and a greater number of people receiving vaccines.

“Texas is OPEN 100%,” Abbott said in a tweet on May 21. “Public Schools are prohibited from mandating masks after June 4.”

The university is included in the entities the executive order targets and a majority of its funding comes from the state government. 

“[The executive order] is lifting the mask mandates and is basically saying capacity is back up to 100 percent,” Rick Walker, media arts professor who teaches media law, said. “But more importantly, the [order] says if you’re a government actor, like the university, we are not allowed to force a student to wear masks. [The university] could lose its state funds if it does not comply with the [order].”

Immediately following the GA-36’s issuance, the university released a statement of compliance.

“UNT is no longer requiring masks indoors for everyone, effective immediately,” President Neal Smatresk said in an official notice released on May 19. 

The executive order came just five days after President Smatresk issued an update on campus mask guidelines, in which he stated that the university will eliminate indoor mask requirements for vaccinated individuals. Following the release of GA-36, the university said in a health alert that it still recommends students and faculty get vaccinated.

In light of the executive order, the university said it is moving away from the 6-foot social distancing guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The university still encourages students to “maintain a space that makes them feel comfortable.” 

“We do encourage students who have not yet been vaccinated to continue to wear a mask [in the Union], but it is up to the individual to wear a mask,” said Wendy Denman, Executive Director of University Centers and Events. “[Union employees will] continue to follow the CDC in terms of social distancing or wearing a mask.” 

Sean Furey, media arts student, said he is comfortable being around others on campus following the governor’s order. 

“I haven’t seen the governor’s mandate, but I’m comfortable going maskless and without social distancing at school,” Furey said. “Hopefully, enough students have chosen to receive the vaccine by now that it won’t be a problem when we return for on-campus classes.” 

Rapid COVID-19 testing will continue to be offered by the Student Health and Wellness Center. Vaccination hubs located in Denton County can be found on the Department of State Health Services website

Featured Image: A discarded mask next to the fountain outside of UNT’s Willis Library on May 29, 2021. Image by John Anderson

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Ryan Cantrell

Ryan Cantrell

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