Case numbers of COVID-19 are falling drastically at Southern Utah University, but people on campus will still be required to wear masks while indoors until at least the end of the spring semester, according to university administration.
The Utah state legislature passed a law last week that will end the statewide mask mandate on April 10, though Gov. Spencer Cox clarified that masks will still be required in schools and for large gatherings in an interview with Fox News.
SUU Provost Jon Anderson explained in a recent interview that the decision to end the mandate at public universities ultimately comes down to the individual institutions. At SUU, masks will be required at least until the end of the spring semester, and then university administrators will reevaluate the need for masks on May 17 when the summer semester begins.
“We don’t anticipate anything to change on April 10,” Provost Anderson said. “What we’re doing has really worked well.”
From March 11-17, only five new cases were reported on campus — the lowest seven-day total posted since Oct. 1-7 and the third lowest total reported in a single week since tracking began at SUU on Aug. 27.
Provost Anderson and President Scott L. Wyatt both reported that there has been no evidence of transmission in classrooms at SUU. According to university tracking data, the bulk of the COVID-19 spread among the campus community has occurred in off-campus gatherings.
“We have been very diligent the entire year with mask wearing and good health habits,” Provost Anderson said. “We have to give accommodations to the students not completely but largely being compliant. Those things have almost completely eradicated the flu and other sicknesses we would have had, and they also have really pushed down the spread of COVID.”
Since tracking resumed on Dec. 31, 270 members of the campus community have informed the school of receiving a positive test, and 785 total reports have been sent to the university since Aug. 27.
Vice President of Student Affairs Jared Tippets sent an email to students on March 8 to inform them that that if they get tested, they “will receive a voucher for a free meal at Thunderbird Cafe, Chick-fil-A, Papa Johns or BRKFST & Co.” as a “way of saying ‘Thank you’ for doing your part in keeping SUU healthy and safe.” According to Provost Anderson, the response from students to that offer has been very positive.
Testing for asymptomatic students is available in the Sharwan Smith Student Center Ballroom on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Anyone displaying symptoms of COVID-19 can sign up to be tested at the J. Reuben Clark Jr. Center Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.-noon.
The Southwest Utah Public Health Department announced 19 new cases in the district Friday, but those cases have not been sorted into individual counties as of yet. There was one new fatality reported in Iron County in the last week: a male between the ages of 65-84 who was hospitalized at the time of death reported Friday.
Cox announced last week that every Utahn over the age of 16 can receive the COVID-19 vaccine beginning on March 24. Sign ups open on Monday on coronavirus.utah.gov.
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Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo by: Mitchell Quartz