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Reusable masks with a bobcat, the mascot for Montana State University, for sale at the MSU bookstore on Thursday, August 5, 2021.

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Montana State University moved to require face masks in some indoor spaces just two days after the fall semester started, citing “widespread disregard” for masks on campus.

MSU President Waded Cruzado sent a letter at 5 p.m. on Thursday requiring face coverings in “every instructional space inside buildings on the campus,” effective immediately. The mandate applies to all student, faculty and staff on campus.

The mandate does not include non-instructional spaces like hallways, lounges, the library, dining halls or dorms, said Tracy Ellig, an MSU spokesperson.

“Instructional areas are an area we can control and also has the densest conglomeration of people that happens on the campus on an everyday basis,” he said.

Cruzado had left the door open to mandating face masks in an Aug. 17 letter that urged students to mask up, saying the school would require masks if it saw “rampant disregard for the need to wear face masks” or if the COVID-19 hospitalizations in Gallatin County increased.

On Thursday, she said that the indifference to masks had already been shown.

“It has become evident that there is widespread disregard for the need to wear face masks in our classrooms,” Cruzado wrote.

The university may revisit or amend the requirement on or before Oct. 1, if needed, she said. In issuing the mandate, Cruzado said the university is mindful of the county’s hospital capacity.

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Gallatin County have been on the rise in recent weeks. The county has consistently seen high transmission rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s classification.

The mandate was issued by email, posted on the university’s website and distributed on the university’s social media channels. Signs on campus will be posted Friday, Ellig said.

The university will take a “phased approach” when addressing students who do not comply to the mandate, Ellig said. That would include having a faculty member speaking personally with a student about masking. If a student repeatedly refused to wear a mask it would be referred to the dean of students and could result in a potential violation of student conduct.

“We don’t want a circumstance where a student is called out in front of their peers in a class,” Ellig said. “We want to handle this diplomatically.”

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Juliana Sukut can be reached at 582-2630 or jsukut@dailychronicle.com

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