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Idaho’s four-year universities will require masks — at least for now

Boise - BSU - 2021
Otto Kitsinger
The Micron Business and Economics building at Boise State University on March 20, 2021. The Idaho Legislature voted in 2021 to slash the university’s budget by $1.5 million after some Republican lawmakers voiced fears BSU was promoting diversity, inclusion and social justice programming at the school. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Originally posted on on August 11, 2021

Idaho’s public four-year schools are reinstating mask mandates — less than two weeks before the start of fall classes.

But the policy isn’t yet final. The State Board of Education gets the last word, and will vote on the policy later this month.

In the meantime, the face mask requirements will go into effect Thursday at indoor facilities on campus, and some outdoor settings as well — regardless of the vaccination status of a student, employee or visitor.

“Although we hoped that this year would look more like pre-pandemic years, sharp increases in Delta variant COVID infections are concerning,” Boise State University President Marlene Tromp and fellow administrators said in a Wednesday email to the university community.

As the delta variant continues to drive case surges across the nation, Idaho is seeing a rapid rise in new case numbers. The 754 cases reported Tuesday represent the state’s largest one-day case count in nearly seven months.

The four-year schools — Boise State, the University of Idaho, Idaho State University and Lewis-Clark State College — required face coverings for 2020-21. But in order to go forward with a similar requirement this fall, they will need the State Board’s go-ahead.

The board’s executive committee — President Kurt Liebich, Vice President David Hill and Secretary Linda Clark — have discussed the mask requirements with college and university officials. The proposal will come before the eight-member board at its next meeting, on Aug. 25 and 26.

“The board has to decide whether to ratify or not,” State Board spokesman Mike Keckler said Wednesday.

Fall classes begin at all four four-year schools on Aug. 23, days before the State Board meeting.

While the schools can mandate face coverings, with the State Board’s approval, they cannot require vaccines. Gov. Brad Little’s executive order banning “vaccine passports” applies to the higher education system.

Still, the four-year schools hope to encourage vaccinations.

“The safest and most effective way to protect yourself, your friends and loved ones, as well as our community, is to get vaccinated,” Boise State administrators said Wednesday.

Here, in full, is Wednesday’s email to the Boise State community:

As we prepare to welcome students and faculty back for fall semester, we want to update you on our plans to mitigate the spread of COVID on campus and in our community. Although we hoped that this year would look more like pre-pandemic years, sharp increases in Delta variant COVID infections are concerning. The Delta variant is highly contagious — CDC projects that it may cause more than twice as many infections as earlier variants. Because it is so transmissible, we are seeing an increase in breakthrough infections (that is, infections in fully vaccinated individuals who remain asymptomatic or have such mild symptoms that they don’t know they’re infected).

Since the Delta variant poses a significant risk to the health and safety of campuses and communities across the state, after consultation with the State Board of Education and our sister institutions, all state 4-year public research universities are reinstating campus facial covering requirements. Effective on Thursday, August 12, facial coverings must be worn in indoor public spaces ­owned or controlled by the university as well as in crowded outdoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status. Facial coverings are not required when working alone in an enclosed space, classroom, or in a residence hall room.

Although this will help mitigate the spread of the Delta variant, the safest and most effective way to protect yourself, your friends and loved ones, as well as our community, is to get vaccinated. COVID vaccines are proven to significantly reduce your chances of getting infected, and if you are, to reduce the likelihood that you’ll become seriously ill. COVID vaccines are available at no cost at the Boise State Vaccination Clinic as well as many other local clinics.

Getting vaccinated, wearing a facial covering, washing your hands frequently, and staying home if you are sick will help keep you and our community healthy. Implementing these infection mitigation strategies now gives us the best chance of enjoying all of our favorite fall activities — including football games, student life activities, and social gatherings — with minimal disruptions.

As with everything COVID related, this remains a dynamic situation. Should conditions improve significantly, these requirements will be revisited. The Public Health team will continue to update you as conditions warrant. Thank you for all you do to keep our campus healthy and safe.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.