Administration officials at Westminster College sent two emails over the last week, urging students to wear masks in public spaces after reports of noncompliance in the Shaw Student Center. The messages reflect the school’s policy that requires face coverings at “all times in all indoor spaces,” according to the Student Handbook.
This comes as Westminster reported 11 new coronavirus cases Friday. Evidence points to frequent student-to-student transmission, according to Interim Dean of Students Glenn Smith who said the school notifies roughly 10-15 people daily that they were exposed to someone who tested positive.
“They’re not just having asymptomatic cases,” Smith told The Forum. “I think it’s important for people to know that some of your colleagues have been really sick.”
The recent uptick in campus cases — with 41 cases reported since the Spring semester began — may be a result of exposure to family members over the holidays, according to Smith. As a result, he said he believes those numbers will begin to decrease over the coming weeks.
Several reports of violations occurred in Shaw, where students are likely to keep their face masks off even after they’ve finished eating.
“It really has more to do with people getting into the swing of wearing their masks,” Smith said. “What we have observed is, especially in Shaw, folks who come and eat — you know, you have to take your mask off — and then they just kind of hang. And they leave their masks off.”
According to campus COVID-19 guidelines, face masks are required inside Shaw when an individual is not eating or drinking. Other policies include limiting four people to a table and maintaining a six-foot distance from others in the serving area.
After several reports from the dining staff that some students were non-compliant, the administration stepped in.
The weekly Safety email that updates COVID-19 statistics included a reminder to wear masks in its Friday report. Three days later, the interim dean of students sent out an email with the same message.
The emails weren’t necessarily a response to widespread violations, according to Smith. Rather, they were more of a precautionary measure to keep cases as low as possible and remind students of best practices.
“I want to call it ‘taking care of each other,’” Smith said. “To be real honest, I don’t want to do conduct [meetings] because people aren’t wearing masks. But we will, and we have.”
Conduct meetings are held when a student is in violation of a campus policy. According to the Student Handbook, Policy 521 outlines COVID-19 guidance and subsequent consequences.
“Violations of the COVID 521 policy and/or the Student Handbook may result in sanctions and corrective actions up to and including suspension and/or expulsion as set forth in the Student Code of Conduct,” the handbook reads. “Examples of violations are when a student does not comply with a request by a Westminster instructor to wear a face covering or refusal to wear a face covering or maintain social distance in the residence halls.”
Smith said he hasn’t had to deal with a case regarding mask noncompliance, but that could be in part because he rarely deals with low-level conduct and mostly handles appeals requests.
For those found in violation, Smith said it’s likely the student must undergo educational sanctions. However, he said he hopes this won’t be the norm.
“We’d really rather not have to do conduct meetings because people are not doing the bare minimum which is wearing a mask,” he said.