Butler removes face mask requirement in Hinkle Fieldhouse and Butler Arts and Events Center. Collegian file photo.
ASHLEY CALLAGHAN | STAFF REPORTER | email@example.com
On Friday Oct. 29, Butler University announced that it will begin a staggered relaxation of its COVID-19 face mask policy.
Face masks are no longer required in Hinkle Fieldhouse or Butler Arts and Events Center facilities, effective immediately. Additionally, face masks will not be required in indoor spaces, with the exception of classrooms, beginning Jan. 3, 2022. The spring semester face mask policy for classrooms is still under evaluation.
The policy update stated that this modification was made based on the campus’s more than 95% vaccination rate, CDC and local health department recommendations and the low number of positive COVID-19 cases on campus. The university encourages unvaccinated individuals to wear masks beyond Jan. 3, but it will not be required.
Brent Rockwood, vice president, chief of staff, said there were a number of people involved in making this decision. Rockwood was appointed by President Danko to internally lead a health and safety team that makes decisions regarding COVID-19 policy. This team is made up of Butler administrators, faculty experts, physicians and public health experts.
Rockwood said the health and safety team reevaluates COVID-19 policies on an ongoing basis. During the 2020-21 school year, face masks were required in all indoor and outdoor spaces. This summer, an indoor face mask requirement was reestablished and went into effect on Aug. 9.
Colin Harts, an Irvington House resident assistant and a junior English major, said wearing face masks has not been challenging for him. However, the most frequent warning he gives as an RA is a reminder to wear masks in Irvington House.
“My only concern about the update is that it will prompt less [face mask wearing] in our residential buildings for the rest of the semester,” Harts said. “I’m going to keep doing my part and respect the university’s policies, and I hope our student body does the same.”
After observing the consistently low case numbers on campus following a spike in early September, Rockwood said the health and safety team was optimistic but waited until after fall break to make any final policy decisions. Since cases have remained low, the team felt comfortable adjusting the face mask policy.
“If we’re able to kind of maintain where we are going forward, this decision will remain in place,” Rockwood said. “We contemplated removing the face masks across the board. But we just felt that, given where we are right now, with the cold weather and flu season upon us, that it wasn’t prudent to fully release it at this time.”
Sarah Fournier, a first-year elementary education major, said she does not feel that a mask requirement is necessary anymore because of the high vaccination rate on campus. However, she understands the uncertainty of the situation which led Butler to require face masks in the first place.
Rockwood said that a methodical, staggered approach is the reasoning behind the immediate policy update in Hinkle Fieldhouse and BAEC facilities compared to the later update for other indoor spaces.
The health and safety team also considered the face mask policies of other local event venues, such as Gainbridge Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium. Although face masks are recommended at these locations, they are not required. This falls in line with the guidance of the Marion County Health Department. These policies, along with the recognition that in-person class attendance is mandatory, while events in Hinkle Fieldhouse or BAEC facilities are optional, helped the team members make their decision.
The immediate change to the mask mandate in Hinkle meant fans were not required to wear masks to the Butler men’s basketball home opener on Oct. 30 against Tiffin.
Rockwood said he wants to remind the community that fully minimizing any risk is impossible, so Butler’s health and safety team is making an effort to methodically return to some sense of normal.
“At the end of the day, I think our group feels very good and confident about the decision that was made and will continue to look at the data and make decisions as appropriate moving forward,” Rockwood said.
The mask mandate may be partially or fully reinstated if there is a significant spike in COVID-19 cases.