Northern Kentucky University on Tuesday ended its mask mandate for students, staff and visitors who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, at the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Because the university has no measures in place to check vaccine status or enforce mask-wearing among unvaccinated people, the decision will likely also enable unvaccinated people to dodge the rule in plain sight. Dr. Valerie Hardcastle, the university’s VP for health innovation, knows this.
She isn’t worried, she said Wednesday night. Local health data puts the university in a good spot.
“It’s very much at a manageable level,” Hardcastle said of the virus. “We don’t anticipate, knock on wood, huge spikes going forward that would put a strain on our medical system.”
Similar logic prompted the CDC to issue its recommendation that masking requirements be relaxed for vaccinated people starting May 13 and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear to immediately adopt the suggestion.
About 53% of Kentucky’s adult population had been vaccinated at the time Beshear made the call. The rest have plentiful opportunities to get the jab, including at local pharmacies, pharmacy chains such as CVS and even at NKU itself.
For people who aren’t vaccinated, the choice about whether to wear the mask is about “a sense of personal responsibility,” Hardcastle said. “If you choose not to get a vaccine when they’re freely available and pretty much anyone who wants one can get one, well, you’re accepting the personal risk at this point.”
Many retailers have taken the same step, including Kroger, Target, Meijer and Walgreens. Local universities and public schools, most of which are on summer break, are still deciding their next moves.
Xavier University in Cincinnati has asked its students to voluntarily share their vaccination status and plans to review its mask policy, but a school spokesperson said nothing has changed yet.
A mask mandate remains in effect for K-through-12 schools in Kentucky and Ohio, but Beshear said he doesn’t expect it to return in the fall.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has set a hard deadline for all COVID-19 health orders in his state: June 2, at which point schools and businesses can make their own rules.
Hardcastle said she hopes NKU students, staff and faculty will use the summer to get vaccinated if they haven’t already. It’s up to them.
“We’re an educational institution,” she said. “So we’re not really interested in sort of ruling with the iron fist, but rather providing education, advice, counseling, help people to understand what the facts are, what the science says.”