Trinity keeps mask mandate in place

ProtecTU policies still enforce masks indoors, deviating from the other universities’ policies

As Thanksgiving break approaches, many students have been hoping that the ProtecTU policies would allow fully vaccinated individuals to be unmasked indoors on campus. However, despite the success of the vaccine booster drive hosted on campus on Oct. 20 (100% of all available appointments were filled), Trinity leadership has remained firm in their resolution to keep the indoor mask mandate in place. On Nov. 8, Tess Coody-Anders, vice president of Strategic Communications and Marketing, sent out an email updating the community about the COVID-19 situation on campus. In this email, Coody-Anders included the new adjustments to the ProtecTU protocols, which cease mandatory surveillance testing for fully-vaccinated students and staff. Notably, however, the controversial indoor mask mandate remains in place.

At the beginning of the academic year, eight other colleges and universities in Texas, along with Trinity, imposed mask mandates on their campuses: Austin Community College, Dallas College, Rice University, Southern Methodist University, St. Edward’s University, Texas Christian University, University of North Texas-Dallas and University of Texas-Dallas. However, many larger Texas universities decided not to impose such restrictions on their communities. Many such institutions decided instead to “strongly recommend” the continuation of mask-wearing indoors or when social distancing cannot be practiced.

For example, Texas A&M University’s current policy says that, “all vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings (cloth face covering, surgical mask, etc.) in indoor public areas on campus … [or] in outdoor spaces where 6 feet of physical distancing is difficult to reliably maintain.”

The discourse among Trinity students regarding the mask mandate has been heating up in the last month after a successful COVID-19 booster shot drive, Trinity’s low COVID-19 case numbers and the downgrading of San Antonio’s COVID-19 risk level to “low.”

Sophomore SGA senator Danny Nguyen said, “I do believe that Trinity has made the correct decision to keep the mask mandate in place these past few months. That being said, I believe that it is now time to reassess the current health policies in place. In retrospect, with the return to near-normalcy in our Trinity experience, there were many concerns about the spread of the virus, and it was the safest decision to keep the mask mandate indoors. Reverting back to now, we impressively have extremely high vaccination rates and low case numbers, having a mid-90% vaccination rate, with cases per week rarely entering the double-digits. That with the low positivity rates in San Antonio, I think there is some peace and reassurance in being able to reevaluate our COVID policies.”

First-year senator Ella Charbonnet reflected on the high vaccination rate at Trinity.

“When I first moved into Trinity, I did feel safer simply because I was new and had yet to understand the environment I was coming into,” Charbonnet said. “However, as I closely track the vaccination and COVID case numbers, I’m not sure if mask mandates are really what is making me feel safer anymore. What honestly makes me feel the most safe is higher vaccination rates, not mask wearing.”

However, experts warn that the public should remember that vaccinated individuals can still spread the virus to those who are unvaccinated. “I think indoors for classes, you know, masks are still a good idea because we do know that even if you are vaccinated and protected against severely symptomatic infection, you can still transmit the virus,” said Jon Dougherty, a visiting assistant biology professor who specializes in molecular virology and microbiology.

Many factors impacted the university’s decision to amend the ProtecTU protocols, including the mask mandate. For now, Trinity remains firmly committed to enforcing the usage of masks indoors, even if other universities are not. However, with the emergency authorization of the COVID-19 vaccine to children over five years old, San Antonio’s decreasing risk level and Trinity’s high vaccination rate, a not-so-distant future may see a Trinity without masks inside.