After Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued Executive Order 36, which bans all government entities from mandating masks in their facilities, Texas State followed suit by ridding of all masking restrictions, leaving students, faculty and staff to begin an adjustment back to pre-pandemic customs.
The executive order, which was signed on May 18, prohibits government institutions from enforcing masks, planning to fine institutions up to $1,000 if they disobey the order.
Prior to eliminating its mask mandate, Texas State lifted its outdoor mask mandate after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported indoor and outdoor activities posed a minimal risk to fully vaccinated people.
Texas State Student Health Center Director Emilio Carranco explains while the university is required to lift mask enforcements, the governor’s executive order said nothing about the university heavily suggesting Bobcats to mask up.
"We're complying with the governor's order and saying we're not going to require [face masks]," Carranco says. "We’re not going to require the wearing of face masks, but we do strongly recommend, especially those who are unvaccinated, to continue wearing face masks for their own protection and for the protection of others.”
Mariah Mutuc, a communication design senior, spent the past school year in her hometown of Laredo, Texas, due to COVID-19. With the lifting of the on-campus mask mandate and her fall classes scheduled to be in-person, she has started preparing for the leap back to life in San Marcos.
“I think it's going a little fast, but I think it's just that [Texas State has] to keep up with what [its] told to do, in a way, because of the Texas government and stuff like that,” Mutuc says.
Even though she's not required to wear a mask and is fully vaccinated, Mutuc worries about possibly spreading COVID-19. She says she plans to wear her face mask, especially around strangers and in classrooms.
“I know that for sure a lot of people in my classes would probably still [wear masks], especially for my professors,” Mutuc says. “A lot of my professors are older, and I would hate to, like, maybe give them something, you know, maybe give them freaking COVID or anything like that. Like, no, I could not live with myself. I think, just for the protection of my classmates, and, like, my professors who are older, I would still wear my mask.”
While Mutuc chooses to still wear her mask, she doesn’t see herself judging others for not wearing a mask, feeling safe behind her own face covering.
“I don't think I would, like, really judge anyone for not wearing [a mask],” Mutuc says. "I feel like as long as I have mine on, you know, I feel safe, and if there are enough people around me that have theirs as well, I think I'm okay.”
Carranco adds while the university cannot require face masks, the risk of contracting COVID-19 remains present, as many people eligible for vaccinations have yet to receive their shot.
According to information available by the state health department, Carranco estimates overall nearly 60% of university faculty and staff have been vaccinated. He adds only 15-20% of students have received a vaccine provided by the university.
In the event that COVID-19 cases increase with the return to in-person classes in the fall, the university has crafted a plan to alter its COVID-19 regulations. Carranco says methods the university used in the past to slow the spread of infection might be implemented again if needed.
“We might adjust activities on campus, we might decide not to allow large events to occur, we might decide to reduce capacities again and go to smaller classroom capacities,” Carranco says.
As the university continues its plan for a return to campus, some consider this new phase a slow return to normalcy. Lynn Ledbetter, a member of Texas State's Faculty Senate and a professor of violin, supports the university's return to normalcy, but says she is cautiously optimistic and believes people should be respected despite their vaccination status.
“I think it's important to understand that there are people who don't wish to be vaccinated for a variety of reasons, and there are those who wish to be vaccinated for a variety of reasons," Ledbetter says. "I think all of those need to be respected, but I think it is a matter of life and death.”
During the past few semesters, Ledbetter says the fine arts curriculum had to adjust to either Zoom lessons or one-on-one classes, which presented challenges due to the quality of music through a streaming platform, like Zoom, or masks blocking sound in other musical fields.
“The thing that is unique for us in the fine arts, I would say this probably for theater, dance, you know, all those things, but specifically for musical instruments, I don't care how good the internet connection or the WiFi, an instrument like violin sounds terrible across Zoom," Ledbetter says. "It just sounds terrible, and we're trying to teach a very specific craft that we're dependent upon tone quality, and you just don't get that on Zoom. So, it has been horrible.”
Ledbetter says all faculty can do now is to suggest students get vaccinated, without enforcing it, reassuring students that the choice is their personal decision. She says while she would like life to return back to how it was before the pandemic, she realizes the world itself has changed.
"I think we're going to have to be compassionate with each other," Ledbetter says. "Coming back in the fall, we're going to have to reach outside of our own comfort zone and see what makes somebody else comfortable. We're going to have to think about others with a high regard for them. We may not feel the same way, but we need to respect what they feel and what they need to feel safe. My goal is to be as compassionate as possible and to think of others as much as I can.”