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Montana State University is now recommending vaccinated and unvaccinated people wear face masks while indoors on campus, citing the increased transmission in Gallatin County.

The new recommendation came in an email from MSU President Waded Cruzado this week, a little under three months after a mask mandate was removed in May. The new guidance is not a mask requirement.

“Masks are an effective way to slow the spread of COVID-19, but the best thing we can all do to protect ourselves, our families, friends and community is to get vaccinated against COVID-19,” Cruzado wrote.

Cruzado reminded students and employees that free vaccines are available at the Bobcat Vaccine Clinic.

The recommendation follows recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that says vaccinated and unvaccinated people should wear masks in indoor public settings in areas of substantial or high transmission.

Some faculty members are saying the recommendation isn’t enough.

The Chronicle heard from nine faculty members who all shared health and safety concerns over the lack of a mask mandate or vaccine requirement but didn’t want to have their names publicly connected to the article for fears of retaliation.

One faculty member anonymously created a petition addressed to Gov. Greg Gianforte and the Montana Legislature asking them to let higher education institutions in the state set their own policies regarding masks and vaccines. As of Thursday, the petition had six signatures.

The petition also calls on universities to “require masks for all indoor campus settings (including all classes), and ideally, require vaccinations.”

Montana’s House Bill 702 — signed into law in May — effectively bans vaccine requirements in most places. The bill, which applies to all vaccines not just COVID-19 vaccines, makes an exception for public schools, nursing homes and long-term care and assisted-living facilities.

MSU requires a measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and a tuberculosis screening for all students before registering for classes.

In a statement, MSU spokesperson Tracy Ellig said the university understood there were concerns and that was why it “urged people to follow CDC recommendations to wear masks indoors,” get vaccinated, get tested and stay home if they’re sick.

“It is also why we offer vaccinations on campus, have a vaccine-incentive program and on-campus symptomatic testing,” he said.

The university hasn’t required students, faculty or staff to reveal their COVID-19 vaccine status and discourages faculty from asking students “as a request to ‘volunteer’ such information could easily be misinterpreted by a student as a requirement,” Ellig said.

Across the country, universities are faced with a decision on whether to require COVID-19 vaccines ahead of the fall semester. As of Thursday, there were at least 662 higher education campuses requiring vaccines of students or employees, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. None were in Montana, Idaho, the Dakotas or Wyoming.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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