Mask wearing to become optional at Webster University

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Masks may be making their final appearances at Webster University.

The Task Force on Transition and Adaptability is modifying the university’s mask guidelines to accommodate for the substantial decrease in COVID-19 cases and on the guidance of health authorities.

On March 7, masks were made optional to wear in non-classroom settings. However, starting March 28, masks will be entirely optional to wear within classrooms and throughout the university.

Masks are still recommended for those who are unvaccinated and individuals susceptible to a more severe case of COVID-19. The university may also require masks to be worn during events or when specific circumstances arise.

Graphic by Kenzie Akins.

When the pandemic started in March of 2020, the university’s COVID-19 Task Force was created. The task force met daily to figure out the best way to keep students and faculty safe at the beginning of the pandemic. This includes overseeing the transition to online classes for all Webster University locations, improving the IT infrastructure and providing daily messages to the Webster community to keep everyone informed on COVID-19 updates and next steps for the university.

On May 6, 2020, the Task Force on Transition and Adaptability was created to oversee the transition back to campus and still continues to meet weekly to discuss and monitor COVID-19 concerns.

According to Patrick Giblin, Webster University’s director of public relations, Webster had the lowest number of reported cases out of any institution in the region one year after the pandemic started.

“Through these two years, we have gained a sense of the importance of basing decisions on the best information possible, a renewed commitment to care for each other and a sobering recognition of the losses suffered by so many,” Giblin said.

As the sense of pre-pandemic normalcy is coming back to campus, Webster students and faculty are fans of the new mask guideline changes.

Photography major Taylor McIntosh is ready for the mask-wearing to come to an end.  Before the COVID-19 pandemic, McIntosh struggled with her shyness and refrained from taking portraits of people.

“At first I liked [masks] because I didn’t have to pay attention to what my face was doing when I was talking,” McIntosh said. “But I don’t think we can wear masks forever. We have to stop at some point.”

Once the lockdown began in March 2020, McIntosh made the best out of a bad situation. She decided to step her photography skills up by learning new ways to edit her photos and establishing connections by making friends through social media.

The new skills learned and friendships made along the way not only propelled her photography career but also gave her a sense of newfound self-confidence.

“[I] came out of my shell to start photographing people and I don’t worry about my facial expressions as much as I used to. So I’m ready for [masks] to be gone,” McIntosh said.

McIntosh said masking during class can be difficult, as it can be hard to hear professors speak through their mask. School of Communications professor Julie Smith couldn’t agree more.

“From a teaching perspective, it’s really hard to project your voice for a long time and your face gets really sweaty after talking for 90 minutes,” Smith said.

Even with Smith working to make her classroom a fun and unique learning environment for her students, she realized her students couldn’t even see her smile and she couldn’t see theirs for the past two years.

“I’m so happy to see students’ faces again,” Smith said. “Not only do we get to see people’s faces, but maybe it means that things will be eventually going back to  ‘normal.’”

The university is proud to see how well the community has handled and adapted to these challenging two years.

Giblin said students, staff and faculty at Webster have been resilient throughout COVID-19. He said the community also showed great compassion toward one another moving through the pandemic.

“This was evident in the ways our members supported each other’s quick transition to remote operations and fully online instruction, the seriousness with which everyone approached mask-wearing and vaccination requirements and the innovations introduced to keep the community connected,” Giblin said.

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