usu masks file

Masked students walk across the USU campus in September 2020.

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Although Utah State University can’t require students and staff to wear masks in buildings this year, a lot of students will still need facial coverings if they want to ride the Aggie Shuttle or local buses to and from campus.

A measure passed by the Utah Legislature this spring prohibited the state’s public schools and colleges from imposing mask mandates, but the law doesn’t override a Center for Disease Control order that requires mask-wearing on all “public conveyances” in the U.S. in an attempt to control the spread of coronavirus.

In addition to the Aggie Shuttle, this includes Cache Valley Transit District buses, which serve several points on campus.

With classes starting at USU next Monday, the university administration has used its website to spell out COVID prevention recommendations and policies. A notice posted Aug. 19 “strongly encourages everyone, including vaccinated individuals, to wear masks indoors in accordance with recent CDC guidance for areas with a high rate of COVID-19 transmission, which includes most of Utah.”

Signs urging the university population to mask up are being posted on campus. USU spokeswoman Amanda DeRito stressed the campaign only seeks voluntary compliance.

“The signs will say ‘Please wear a mask,’” DeRito said. “We recognize that we’re asking really nicely and we hope people will comply, but I think there is a real incentive for all students and everyone who wants to keep classes in person and continue to have events and all to wear a mask when they’re indoors.”

The legislation prohibiting mask mandates also requires that a certain percentage of classes be taught in person this year — at least 70 percent of the number taught in-person in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic.

Students and faculty are being encouraged to get COVID-19 vaccines, and a number of vaccine clinics are planned at the beginning of the semester, including an all-day clinic during Wednesday’s annual Day on the Quad.

As it did last school year, the university will also provide virus testing for the campus community in the parking lot east of Maverik Stadium. Hours are 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and those wanting tests can register at aggiehealth.usu.edu.

Early last fall, USU officials quarantined a dormitory after testing of sewage showed a high level of COVID-19 present among residents of the facility. The monitoring of wastewater on campus will continue this year in an effort to head off potential major outbreaks.

DeRito said the wastewater testing process has become much more “targeted” than it was last year at this time, so researchers can track outbreaks to very specific areas on campus and begin contact tracing quickly, which will make large actions like a full-building quarantine less necessary.

“That (the dorm quarantine) was the biggest event, and that was mainly because we weren’t able to target just certain areas at that point, and we’ve gotten really good combining our containment team with our wastewater monitoring to be able to target building areas, or even floors,” she said.

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