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Some students, faculty and staff say Montana State University’s mask mandate for instructional spaces on campus is insufficient and are calling for a campus-wide requirement.

MSU President Waded Cruzado sent a letter to requiring face coverings Thursday evening 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 office spaces. The mandate is in effect until Oct. 1, when the university will revisit it.

Some MSU professors and staff say that requirement isn’t strong enough amid rising levels of COVID-19 and hospitalizations in the county.

Gallatin County for about a month has seen high transmission rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The county saw a 22% increase in cases per 100,000 residents on Wednesday from the week before with 177 cases.

Selena Ahmed, a professor in the department of health and human development, said the mandate would be more effective if it followed CDC guidelines, which recommend everyone wear masks in all public indoor spaces regardless of vaccination rate.

“One point of concern is that the mask requirement is only inside the classroom and not in the hallways off the building,” Ahmed said in a message to the Chronicle Friday.

In an earlier phone interview with the Chronicle on Thursday afternoon, Ahmed spoke of the importance of a mandate. In the first couple days of class Ahmed said few students were wearing masks in classes and faculty were getting exhausted trying to have multiple conversations with students about masking.

“One classroom across from my office had 42 students and only two were masked, they were sitting shoulder to shoulder in a windowless classroom,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed commended the mask mandate, but urged the university to take it a step further.

A staff member who works closely with students said it felt like staff members were left out from the mask mandate. She requested to speak anonymously with the Chronicle, fearing she may face retaliation from the university for speaking openly against the mandate.

“I thought ‘what about us?’” the staff member said of reading the mandate. “Staff feel like we’re not important. I think there’s a fair amount of anger and frustration going on.”

She said her offices have been full of students and their parents preparing for the fall semester, and most are unmasked.

“(The mandate) doesn’t address the health or safety of the staff,” she said. “It feels like they’re only looking after the faculty. I’m not saying it was their intent, but it’s what the staff is feeling.”

She wanted the school to extend the mandate to address non-instructional spaces, like offices.

MSU spokesperson Tracy Ellig said staff members may ask a student to wear a mask inside offices and other spaces, like the library, where classes are not taught.

When asked if not requiring masks within non-instructional spaces sent a message that the health of staff members was less important than faculty, Ellig disagreed.

“That seems a surprising way to view it because requiring masks in the classrooms has a net effect of protecting everyone on campus,” Ellig said.

The university chose to focus on indoor instructional spaces because those have the highest level of density of people who are gathered together for long periods of time, Ellig said.

“Everywhere else is more of a transactional relationship that doesn’t have that density or that amount of time,” he said. “That’s why we have focused on, and continue to focus on, just instructional spaces.”

Asked what it may take for the university to tighten mask requirements, Ellig said the university will reevaluate the mandate on Oct. 1.

“We will be looking at what’s going on in terms of the community and a whole variety of metrics, but we don’t have a formula in the desk right now that we can share,” he said.

The university has no way of tracking how many students are vaccinated. Students do not have to disclose their COVID-19 vaccination status to the university, he said.

As of Friday, 3,400 students had entered into a school sweepstakes that requires proof of vaccination, Ellig said. Some students have opposed the mask mandate. Others are unbothered or welcomed the news Friday.

Anna Shaurett, a freshman studying exercise science, said Friday that a mask mandate didn’t bother her personally and she had already been wearing a mask while in class. As for requiring masks for her classmates, she said, “I don’t really care.”

Taylor Freedman, a senior studying sociology, said she was glad to see a mandate. Speaking Friday afternoon, she had heard some of her peers complain about the mask mandate and said a small portion of students were upset about the mandate.

It would have been less confusing for students had the university required masks since the first day of class and she hoped the school would require masks in more indoor spaces, Freedman said.

“Personally, if it were me, I’d want them to do more,” she said.

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

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