JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)- East Tennessee State University reversed course by requiring face masks in most indoor settings on campus starting Wednesday, August 4.
“As a student, I’m frustrated. I’ve been vaccinated and want to see things go back to normal. This year, we have a lot of big things planned with SGA,” said Student Body President, Mason Mosier. “We have concerts, we have things that we want to do, and this is only going to negatively impact us getting back to normal.”
Mosier anticipates the policy to be short-lived and that this will encourage more people to get the shot.
“It’s not going to take too much away from what’s going to be great about this semester when we have everybody come back to ETSU, when we have our entire ETSU family represented,” Mosier said. “I think that we’re going to see people are just going to be glad to be back.”
A recent rise in COVID cases, the quick spread of the Delta variant and the Ballad Health system nearing capacity led to the change, according to the university.
“If it helps keep our community safe, we should do it. I don’t know if it’s enough to keep everyone safe on campus, just because there’s a lot of things we don’t know,” said Melissa White, a doctor of public health student. “Obviously, I would like people to get vaccinated, but I think really, first and foremost, we need to know what is happening with the virus on our campus in order to keep everyone safe.”
Sophomore Levi Jones agrees.
“I’m pretty relieved that they’re doing this,” Jones said.
The school dropped its mask requirement for those who are fully vaccinated back in May, but the new requirement regarding face coverings includes both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
“We are perfectly capable of making our own decisions in regards to COVID,” said junior student Rachel Harrington. “We’ve been dealing with this for over a year now.”
The university says low vaccination rates across the region also played into the decision.
“A mask mandate again is not going to encourage vaccines at all,” Harrington said. “Why would people get the vaccination if they’re going to be forced to wear a mask anyway?”
Classes start for the university on August 23. As of now, the policy will not impact outdoor events like football games this fall.
“Last year, they waited until after many students had already paid and registered to make the switch then, and that’s exactly what they’ve done this year,” said sophomore Kyler Glover. “ETSU should leave it up to the students and staff to decide whether you want to wear a mask or not.”
There are a few exceptions to the rule: masks do not have to be worn while eating or drinking or while in private offices and residence hall rooms.
“I’m still planning on attending classes as regular. As far as the mask policy, I don’t plan on maybe wearing one at school,” Glover said. “I’m really hoping that ETSU will change their minds on this decision.”
ETSU’s announcement comes one day after the University of Tennessee said all campuses will mandate masks in classrooms, any indoor events students are required to attend, and laboratories.