It’s the first week of classes.
For months, our campus community has attended virtual lectures, socially distanced throughout campus and connected with classmates through online discussions.
But now, 87% of classes are in person, the university is prohibited from enforcing a mask mandate and local cases and hospitalizations of COVID-19 are on the rise.
In its Aug. 10 COVID-19 update, Texas State revealed its plans to return to a “vibrant university experience.” Its plan includes requesting students and faculty to wear a mask, test regularly for COVID-19 and report positive COVID-19 tests to Bobcat Trace.
However, these requests are just that: requests.
With Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order barring public universities from enforcing the necessary precautions to protect students, faculty and staff from COVID-19, Texas State has yet to set any official mandates to protect our campus community.
Nearby schools, however, have voted on resolutions that fight back against Abbott’s ruling.
San Marcos CISD Board of Trustees issued a resolution that requires all individuals to wear masks both in district buildings and on campuses.
Down the interstate, the University of Texas at San Antonio moved its first three weeks of lecture classes online. While labs, studios and other “hands-on” instruction courses remain in person, lecture classes have been modified to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 among large indoor gatherings.
The University of Texas at Austin has issued comprehensive masking guidelines for its campus community. Additionally, UT is requiring all of its students to submit a negative COVID-19 test before Aug. 27.
With these nearby schools in mind, one has to wonder if Texas State could do more to further prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially with the Delta variant posing a new worldwide threat. The Delta variant is at least two times more contagious than the original COVID-19 strain, making vaccinations and wearing masks more important than ever.
By choosing to conduct the majority of classes in person, Texas State has put the health of its students, faculty and staff at risk. If the university really wanted to pursue a healthy semester, the entire campus community, not just incoming freshmen, could have been required to submit a negative COVID-19 test before classes began.
Across Texas State’s campus, departments and services are stepping up to set their own rules on masking protocols and safety precautions. The Bobcat Shuttle, for example, is using its status as “public transportation” to enforce masking while in service. In the Department of Theatre and Dance, masking was strongly recommended for in-person callbacks, and a remote option was offered for those not wishing to wear a mask.
Texas State Athletics will also follow separate guidelines from the university as the Sun Belt, the conference Texas State is a part of, has its own set of COVID-19 protocols. Although vaccinations and masks will not be required, non-vaccinated personnel (athletes, coaches, staff) must undergo regular COVID-19 testing, while vaccinated personnel will not.
At The University Star, we strive to keep our staff safe. It is now our organization's policy to wear a mask at all times during in-person interviews and when working in our office.
Despite these few departments and student organizations taking a more proactive approach, this is not enough.
Other Texas State organizations, as well as the university itself, need to reconsider their back-to-school plans in order for our campus community to have a safe and productive school year.