St. Edward's requires masks to be worn inside campus buildings

New students were taking summer orientation tours at St. Edward's University on Monday. The tours moved past several new warning signs that explained there is a new campus-wide rule that requires everyone to wear masks when inside any university building. 

"It is doable in the buildings, sometimes it does get a little uncomfortable, especially like if there is a large number of people because then you feel really hot, but otherwise, you've just got to accept what the higher-ups tell you to do," said Senior Cindy Navarro.

The mask mandate also applies to people who are fully vaccinated. 

The decision, according to University Vice President Dr. Lisa Kirkpatrick, is in response to last week's announcement that Austin was moving to Stage 4 COVID guidelines. "We knew we needed to follow along with the recommendations of the Austin Public Health," said Kirkpatrick.

The campus has not had a big viral outbreak, and Kirkpatrick agreed the mask mandate is more of a pre-emptive, preventative move. "Absolutely and that's what we've done this entire past school year, right," said Kirkpatrick.

Up until Monday, the university required an online screening to attend classes in person. For those who are fully vaccinated, wearing a mask was optional. 

One of the parents attending an orientation on Monday feels requiring everyone to wear masks is extreme. "I think it's kind of overkill for people who already got a vaccine, like my daughter, she already got a vaccine. If we just can check the children as they show up in the classroom, the one who doesn't have a vaccine, she wears a mask. The one has vaccinate can be free of the mask," said Feumy Carine.

There are exceptions to the new rule. Mask sare not required outdoors or in private indoor spaces like resident halls rooms or offices when you are alone. 

The university is private and that is why it is able to get around the governor's executive order that bans mask mandates in public schools. State Democrats over the weekend urged the governor to resend his order, sparking a reboot of a political fight that the university may now get pulled into. "We do not take, asking our community to do anything so strong as, everyone wearing a mask, lightly," said Kirkpatrick.

Push-back is expected but Kirkpatrick denied that the University is trying to make a political statement. "No sir. No, this is not about politics, this is about science and safety and well-being, truly. If we want to have a normal year, we have got to work together and pull together to do that," said Kirkpatrick.

If Austin Public Health drops back to 3, the mask mandate could be relaxed. " When Austin Public Health drops the stage level back to 3, we will review our policy, and update them according to what APH, CDC, and our medical advisory team advises us to do," said Kirkpatrick.

Until then, campus life at St. Edward's will include keeping a mask on inside. 

FOX 7 Austin did a COVID-19 mask review of the other big universities in town. Concordia University is currently only requiring masks for those who are unvaccinated. Officials say an upgrade could happen though if new guidelines are issued by the CDC.

Southwestern University, according to its website, is only requiring masks for those who are not fully vaccinated. Huston-Tillotson University is in the process of reactivating the campus for in-person instruction. An indoor mask mandate is under consideration. 

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