August 4, 2021
Dear students, faculty and staff,
As the fall 2021 semester approaches, our university leadership team is excited to return to in-person learning and the full on-campus experience. While our anticipation builds, we must recognize the latest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. A sharp spike in cases in Mississippi and nationally is being caused by the Delta variant that is highly contagious and spreading quickly.
Considering where we were this time last year, we can all be grateful for the availability of effective, safe and free vaccines. Even with vaccines, however, the recent surge is cause for concern because the Delta variant is easily transmitted. We have reviewed updated guidance and recommendations from the CDC and the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH). We have regular communications with the IHL and other universities in the system, MSDH, the City of Oxford, the local school district, and the local hospital to assess the impact on our community. These discussions further inform our decision making for expanding or reducing community intervention and mitigation strategies.
To align with the CDC and the directive from MSDH stating, “that masks be worn universally indoors for all students, faculty, staff, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status. Due to the prevalence of the highly transmissible Delta Variant, masks must be worn in all indoor facilities to mitigate the risk of infection at this time” the university is implementing the following update to campus protocols:
- Effective immediately, the university will require face coverings in indoor public spaces on campus, regardless of vaccination status. This includes public office spaces, classrooms, conference rooms and other academic spaces like laboratories and libraries. Additionally, masks will be required while traversing public spaces in residence halls, dining facilities, the Student Union, Campus Rec, and retail spaces. Masks will be required for extracurricular activities held in indoor on-campus spaces. Face coverings are not required when outdoors.
This new, temporary protocol is an evidence-based mitigation strategy which will assist us in delivering in-person learning and maintaining a full on-campus experience with the least amount of disruption. We’re optimistic that this temporary mask utilization indoors will help ensure a successful start to the school year. In fact, to have the full in-person experience, this strategy is being embraced by all eight public universities in Mississippi, as well as other SEC universities. We will evaluate this protocol daily based on how spread of the virus evolves on campus and in our community. Let me emphasize that we are implementing this temporary mitigation strategy as the least disruptive way to ensure a full campus experience.
We’re incredibly grateful to all those who are doing their part to protect themselves, their families, and others by getting vaccinated. We know that many of you who have received the vaccine will be frustrated about once again returning to masking, even if it is temporary. It is important to note that the effectiveness of vaccines against virus spread, hospitalization, and the most severe outcomes offer us the best path forward and your individual choice to be vaccinated will remain advantageous to you. Please know that when we are able to lift the temporary mask mandate for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, it is very likely that anyone who is unvaccinated will still need to wear a mask indoors, as it will be their only protection from the effects of getting the virus. We urge everyone to do their part to keep themselves and our community safe: Take advantage of the free and widely available vaccines.
Our teams continue to monitor this fluid situation daily, and we will keep you apprised of any changes to the campus protocols. Thank you for your commitment to our shared success — it will require all of us, working collectively and in alignment, to limit the spread of the virus.
Glenn F. Boyce