With mask requirements gone, Webster’s COVID-19 cases still remain low

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Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, over 222,000 St. Louis citizens have tested positive for COVID-19 and over 3,000 of those St. Louisans have died. Two years after the nationwide emergency was announced, St. Louis and the rest of the U.S. is trying to move on from lockdowns and mask mandates.

In the United States, 77.3% of people have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 65.9% of U.S. citizens are fully vaccinated. Both the state of Missouri and St. Louis County are under that 77.3%. Missouri has a 66% vaccination rate of one dose or more and St. Louis county has a 75% vaccination rate of one dose or more.

Graphic by Kenzie Akins.

Since the start of the 2021-2022 school year, Webster University has had 153 confirmed COVID-19 cases at the main Webster Groves location. Of these cases, 53 are from residential students, 42 are from commuter students and 58 are from faculty and staff. These numbers were last updated on April 14.

However, the reason cases are so low could be because Webster University only requires certain students to get tested. One example of this is unvaccinated student athletes. Unvaccinated student athletes get tested twice a week. As for all other unvaccinated staff and students, there are no testing requirements.

Fontbonne University, another university in St. Louis, requires all unvaccinated students to provide proof of negative COVID-19 tests once per week. They have recorded 52 cases this semester between staff and students. Maryville University has also done widespread testing when coming back from breaks.

Webster doesn’t provide the general student body with access to free, on-campus testing. For students that want to get tested, they either have to buy a kit or go somewhere testing is available.

When the pandemic began, Webster University created a COVID-19 Task Force to help solve COVID-19 issues. The Task Force for Transition & Adaptability was then introduced in May of 2020.

One of the members of the original COVID-19 Task Force is Jody Spiess. Besides being on the taskforce, Spiess is also an assistant professor of nursing at Webster.

“About 98% of all students, faculty and staff are vaccinated,” Spiess said. “We will never reach 100% for a number of reasons, such as community members with health issues that prevent vaccination, those who are working or studying remotely and those who are still in our system but are inactive and therefore have not registered their vaccination status.”

Another member of the Webster University COVID-19 Task Force is Dean of Students John Buck.

“I know of only two or three students.” Buck said about how many cases there have been since the mask mandate was lifted. Spiess said that there were three confirmed cases since the mask mandate at Webster was lifted.

Both Spiess and Buck have had very positive outlooks on how our campus has been functioning post mask mandate removal.

“I think it is going well. There have not been any classroom outbreaks or clusters on campus and that is what we would see if cases were to increase. We have a very kind and compassionate campus community, and we all want what is best for each other. I have noticed that students will still wear their masks when they notice others have one on (out of respect for that person), and I’ve seen faculty and staff do the same.” Spiess said. “I have been keeping mine off unless I am in a very large crowd or am meeting with someone who prefers to wear theirs. I am seeing so much respect and appreciation for others’ situations and viewpoints. The best part about it has been how nice it is to see all the smiles and faces again.”

Webster University also waited a week after spring break to remove the mask mandate. Buck says it is because of the number of cases in students after winter and fall break. COVID-19 upticks were common with winter and fall break.

Even though the numbers are good for Webster, numbers across St. Louis county are still going up and testing is still going down. St. Louis county has a 7.9% positivity rate as of April 22 whereas the tail end of February showed a 5-6% positivity rate.

Overall, Webster seems to be doing better than most local universities, but doesn’t provide or require testing. It is still potentially unknown how many cases there actually are. Buck did say that no matter what happens, the COVID-19 taskforce is going to do what they think is best for the well being of the students.

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