Illinois Wesleyan moved to a predominantly “mask-optional” campus as of Friday, March 25. The mask policy changed in response to a low amount of positive COVID cases on campus post-spring break. Six cases were active at the time of the announcement.
Masks are now optional in Ames Library, Shirk Center, dining halls, residence halls, fraternity houses, meeting areas, offices and hallways. Masks will continue to be required in all mandatory class activities and in “health spaces” such as Arnold Health Services and Counseling Services.
Dean Karla Carney-Hall and Dr. Vicki Folse said that they carefully considered the guidance from the CDC (Centers for Disease Prevention and Control) as well as Illinois requirements. Carney-Hall said that there has typically been a spike in positive cases when students have traveled.
Carney-Hall said that she wanted to watch positivity rates in McLean County after the mask reduction by the state announced in late February. Before she made the call, Carney-Hall also wanted to wait until students returned from spring break.
“Ultimately, we felt that the campus and local positivity rates were low and that this change was an appropriate positive step forward,” Carney-Hall said.
While students are required to wear masks in classrooms, they are not in hallways. Carney-Hall said that the difference was classroom activity is “essential to student success” and so they wanted to keep an extra layer of protection in place.
Many classes require that students sit for more than 15 minutes in a distance less than 6 feet.
“Students have some choice about entering crowded hallways and how long they linger there, where they don’t have the same choices about classrooms,” Carney-Hall said.
An email sent to students on March 24 clarified that mask requests by individuals in small groups must be honored by all members of the group. Event sponsors may choose a more restrictive masking policy and are expected to publish mask expectations ahead of events. Any event or meeting sponsor can require masks.
Refusal to wear a mask upon request in a small group may be considered a violation of the Titan Pledge. The Titan Pledge requires students to “accept responsibility for [themselves] and [their] actions and will do [their] best to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
“We want to be a community that honors the masking norms that support health,” Carney-Hall said.
Arnold Health Services can provide students with N95s and KN95s.
“Wearing a well-fitting mask properly is most important,” Folse said.
As of March 31, McLean County Health Department (MCHD) reported 103 new cases since March 18. Folse and Carney-Hall also said that IWU reserves the right to return to a full mask requirement or adjust mask expectations at any time, based on community spread concerns.