Ohio University And Athens City Schools Issue Mask Mandates

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Students will be returning to classes this fall fully masked, per announcements from Ohio University and the Athens City School District on Wednesday.  

In an email to the OU community Wednesday afternoon, the university announced that effective Thursday, masks will be required in all OU indoor public and shared spaces, regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status. 

This decision comes just short of three weeks before the start of the fall semester.  

“Even as we are excited about having more students back on all our campuses, we have been closely watching the recent shift in COVID-19 transmission rates here in Ohio and across the country,” the email stated. “As you have likely seen in reports from national health experts, recent data indicates that breakthrough infections, though rare, can occur in vaccinated individuals and that even vaccinated individuals may be able to spread the Delta variant.” 

OU is the latest university in the state to announce a mask mandate amid the latest wave of COVID-19 spread, joining Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati, which both announced mask mandates this week. 

According to OU’s announcement, masks will be required when entering, exiting or standing in line to enter a campus building and are recommended outdoors for “unvaccinated individuals who cannot maintain physical distance.”   

Additionally, the university stated that there may be cases where masks will be required of everyone outdoors.  

Asymptomatic testing for COVID-19 will continue this semester for all residential students who arrive on campus, regardless of vaccination status. The university calls this its “best opportunity” to identify infection and curb any possible outbreak.  

“Our asymptomatic testing program last year was successful in minimizing spread and keeping our residence halls open,” the email stated. “We are confident this testing system will again set us up for success.” 

The university will continue to require that all students, faculty and staff provide proof of vaccination through its COVID-19 Testing Pathways Program or agree to weekly COVID-19 testing. All students, faculty and staff are required to select a pathway by Tuesday. Students who register through the program by midnight on Thursday will be entered into a drawing for prizes, including dinner with men’s basketball coach Jeff Boals or free tuition for the fall semester. 

Remnants of the COVID-19 Pandemic are seen in Athens, Ohio, on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. [Joseph Scheller | WOUB]
A sign on Ohio University’s campus taken on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. [Joseph Scheller | WOUB]
Athens City School District 

On the heels of OU’s announcement, Athens City School District Superintendent Tom Gibbs emailed district families a COVID-19 protocol update, which includes a similar mask mandate. 

All students, faculty and staff will be required to wear masks while on a school bus and throughout the regular school day. Mask breaks may be provided, and Gibbs stated that exceptions will be made for teaching phonics, speech pathologists or other situations where a mask would prohibit a student from learning or cause a safety concern.  

Students will not be required to wear a mask during outdoor recess. 

Masks will be required by all attendees during building orientations and open houses.  

Additionally, masks may be required during sporting events. Those attending sporting events will be required to provide proof that they have a mask on their person. Fans will be asked to sit in socially distanced family/friend units. Masks will be required at indoor sporting events if the number of fans exceeds 25 percent capacity of the venue. The same rule will apply to outdoor events if fans exceed 50 percent capacity. 

Gibbs stated that due to the high number of vaccinations among faculty and staff, masks will not be required by those who are vaccinated at the district’s office in Chauncey. Masks will also not be required on teacher work days, in professional meetings or when faculty/staff are working in the building outside of the school day. 

The school district encourages vaccinations for all who are able and will be working with the Athens City-County Health Department to arrange on-site vaccinations for students with parent permission.  

“I am very happy to report that the overwhelming majority of Athens City School District faculty and staff have been vaccinated,” Gibbs stated in the email. 

The ACSD currently does not require its community to show evidence of vaccination, though it “reserves the right to change this practice” upon FDA approval of a vaccine, according to Gibbs. The exception to this rule is university student interns, who will be required to either provide vaccination evidence or a valid medical reason for not being vaccinated.  

In the email, Gibbs updated the school community on a variety of other pandemic-related topics, including: 

  • Physical distancing. It will be difficult to provide physical distancing in classrooms and school buses. The district will make “every effort” at athletic and other events.  
  • Quarantine. Students with COVID-19 symptoms will be required to quarantine and not be able to attend school until 10 days have passed or a medical professional determines it is safe.  
  • Physical barriers. Per findings of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, plexiglass barriers provide little to no protection against COVID-19 and will no longer be used in the schools. 
  • Cleaning. Enhanced and frequent cleaning of school facilities will continue. Hand sanitizer will be available to students.  
  • Building use. Non-school groups may be permitted to use the facilities. They must follow all safety protocols. Only certain areas of the buildings will be available and a cleaning/sanitizing fee will be charged.  
  • Visitors. Parents/guardians must wear a mask when entering the building/main office.  

“We appreciate your patience and understanding,” Gibbs stated. “The first day of school is August 25th, and this will be the first day that all students have attended our buildings in person in over a year. It is our hope that the efforts outlined above will provide a safe environment for all of our students.” 

Two other Athens County school districts have released statements about mask requirements. Both Federal Hocking Local Schools and the Trimble Local School District announced that masks will be recommended for all students, staff and visitors. Both districts also state that masks will be required for anyone who utilizes school transportation.