While the University of Minnesota continues to be scrutinized for its decision not to require staff and students get vaccinated for COVID, it has announced Monday it will be mandating face mask use indoors at all times, regardless of vaccination status.
As the delta variant continues to cause cases to rise nationally, U of M President Joan Gabel announced Monday that effective Tuesday, Aug. 3, all students, staff, faculty, contractors and visitors to its campuses and facilities will be required to wear face masks while indoors.
"Wearing a mask or facial covering indoors has been shown to slow the transmission of COVID-19, and as we saw as a nation, virtually eliminate other airborne illnesses like the flu," Gabel said.
"This requirement applies to all campuses and offices statewide, whether a given location is in a substantial or high transmission zone or not."
The announcement comes just five days after Gabel said that the university's mask policy was unchanged, and that unvaccinated people would be encouraged to wear masks indoors.
The university has been criticized by some of its own faculty members by not following some other Minnesota colleges such as Hamline University, Macalester, and Carleton, as well as hundreds of other across the country, in requiring students and staff be inoculated against COVID-19.
This past week, BMTN obtained an internal email reveals how it's explaining its decision to staff.
The email, forwarded to Bring Me The News, was issued by the University of Minnesota's Campus Public Health Officer, which comes amid an ongoing dialogue between administrators and some faculty/staff members who are concerned about potentially – and unknowingly – being exposed to unvaccinated students come the new semester.
The main thrust of the argument made by the officer is that a "mandate requiring vaccination will have limited effectiveness in creating a safe campus."
It gave three reasons for this, the first of which is because COVID vaccines have only received emergency use authorization from the FDA, "making a mandate legally problematic," despite the aforementioned hundreds of colleges imposing mandates themselves.
It also argued that Minnesota's law has a "broad exemption clause that includes people willing to provide a notarized statement that they have conscientiously held beliefs against vaccination."
Finally it argued – without providing evidence – that many universities "are running into enforcement issues due to the privacy of health records."
BMTN asked the U of M whether it will impose a vaccine mandate when the vaccines have full FDA approval; why requiring a notarized exemption is considered a reason against imposing a vaccine mandate; and how requiring proof of vaccination differs from parents having to provide immunization records when their children start school.
It responded with this: "As you know, there are a variety of factors considered when discussing, reviewing and implementing any University policy and guidance as it relates to public health measures on campus, including mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations. Some of the factors that may limit the effectiveness of a mandate were cited in the email.
"The University will continue to monitor the circumstances surrounding the pandemic and evaluate if changes are needed to any current approaches."