New COVID-19 Masks Regulations on Campus

With COVID-19 still here on campus, Austin College is officially requiring all visitors, students, staff, and faculty to wear a face mask inside and outside at all times. Since the start of Fall Term 2020, masks have been required in all buildings, but outside regulations changed in the first few weeks. 

Regulating masks outside became more difficult than originally hoped. A grey area appeared with wearing a mask outside when social distance wasn’t achievable – can we maintain social distance, how long is our interaction, etc.? Now with masks required anywhere and at all times, it’s very clear on when everyone should be wearing a mask. 

While wearing masks can be inconvenient, especially outside, it has its benefits. Saritha Bangara, Ph.D., MPH, is the Assistant Professor of Public Health and the face of Austin College’s COVID protocols. She believes in the importance of wearing a mask in times like this. She stated, “[COVID] has 40 to 50% of people who are asymptomatic, as new data has shown, so that is a significant proportion of people who are walking around campus showing no symptoms, having no idea.” Dr. Bangara and many others say masking up is the best way to protect yourself.

Wearing masks is the most important and effective way to protect yourself from COVID-19, but you shouldn’t stop there. Dr. Bangara expresses three strategies for battling the virus.“First,  avoiding parties or gatherings in indoor spaces,” she said. “Second, wearing a mask, and third, handwashing and sanitizing.” 

Meeting people indoors can be very dangerous. According to Bangara, it’s okay to meet others outdoors, but not indoors due to lack of ventilation. She says, “enough research has shown that COVID is airborne, which people four months ago didn’t realize. They just thought it was through droplet transmission.” Being outdoors does not make you virus-proof, but is still a much safer option. 

Austin College’s number of cases have exceeded 70. A spike of cases occurred within the first two weeks of school, but the number of active cases has steadily decreased. This is good news for those on-campus and faculty – hopefully securing the ability to stay on campus until Thanksgiving. 

Another positive for this semester is the new testing site on campus, which will remain indefinitely. Anyone can go as many times as they need so long as they wait 48 hours after their last test. Everyone who comes on campus was required to get tested in the last two weeks, which helps monitor active cases on campus. A second mandatory test has not yet been announced, but Dr. Bangara says she hopes for mandatory testing to happen again when we come back to campus for Jan Term and spring semester.