Following recent updates to mask guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a decline in COVID-19 cases in Polk County since late January, Drake University scrapped its mask mandate on Wednesday at 5 p.m.
Students and staff were informed of the policy shift by an email from President Marty Martin, who cited CDC guidance that states communities designated at a “low” or “medium” COVID-19 community level do not need to enforce mask-wearing indoors. The CDC currently rates Polk County at a medium community level based on used hospital beds, hospital admissions and the number of new COVID-19 cases.
The mask guidance at this level says that those with “symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 should wear a mask.” Additionally, those who are at high risk for severe illness are advised to discuss with their healthcare provider about whether they should wear a mask and take other precautions.
According to an email from Drake Chief of Staff Nate Reagen on March 7, there were three confirmed off-campus student cases at that time. Drake’s COVID-19 updates will no longer be emailed to Drake students and staff each Friday but will be available online.
Drake’s policy allows students and employees who receive legal accommodations under the American Disabilities Act (ADA) to require those around them to wear masks, Martin said in the email. According to Reagen, the period between Martin’s email and Wednesday evening’s lift of the mandate allowed time to apply for accommodations.
“Most importantly, the delay has allowed students, faculty and staff sufficient time to submit ADA requests,” Reagen said in an email. “There are also several other facets to consider — all the way down to turning water fountains back on, removing campus signage, beginning to remove plexiglass, et cetera.”
According to Reagen, professors cannot generally require their students to wear masks unless a student submits a request for accommodations through Student Disability Services.
“I support the evidence-based, public health guidance of the CDC,” international relations professor Debra DeLaet said. “The CDC acknowledges that individuals with medical vulnerabilities continue to have heightened risks for bad outcomes. I’m grateful that Drake policy recognizes accommodations in such cases.”
Senior Paige Penningroth said that campus was not informed early enough to allow students to apply for accommodations through Disability Services, given that students needed to submit a doctor’s note in order for their accommodations to be approved. Penningroth said she had an appointment with her doctor scheduled the afternoon Martin’s email went out, which allowed her to submit her doctor’s note that same day. Even so, she said that she skipped two classes on Thursday as a precaution after her professors did not respond to her request for accommodations.
“A two-and-a-half-day turnover for that is not a lot of time for most people that wanted an accommodation to even get one,” Penningroth said. “At the very least, they should have given, like, a three-week heads up about it so that everyone that needs an accommodation could get one in place.”
Penningroth said that the mask mandate lift is an issue of inclusion and that no harm is done in asking people to wear a mask.
“Knowing that rates aren’t lower — that people’s chances of catching it aren’t lower but maybe that non-disabled people probably won’t die from it like — is the reasoning, but then what about the disabled people that do have multiple conditions that when exposed do have that higher risk?” Penningroth said. “It’s just not factoring them in or creating a safe space for them at Drake University, and I think that’s problematic, and administration should be a little ashamed of themselves.”
Sophomore Ash Canaday said they disapprove of the mask mandate lift and believe people should continue wearing masks in crowded public spaces. However, from the perspective of a student with auditory processing issues, they also said that exempting professors from wearing masks is beneficial.
“Having the teacher not wearing masking those circumstances can be invaluable to some people, and it’s useful to everybody,” Canaday said. “It can just be hard to understand what people are saying, especially if you’re in classes where you’re learning new vocabulary, so it’s definitely a give and take.”
Martin said in the email that Drake has also lifted requirements for special authorization or limitations for in-person events, audience attendance limits for fine arts events, vaccination requirements for domestic travel and restrictions in the Bell Center and Underground Fitness.
“It’s nice to work out in the Bell Center without wearing [a mask],” senior Nick Meyer said.