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Michigan State makes masks mandatory on campus

Mark Johnson
Lansing State Journal

EAST LANSING — Michigan State University students, faculty, staff and visitors are now required to wear masks on campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

They’ll be penalized if they don’t.

The mandate applies across the campus, both indoors and outdoors. It’s one of many steps MSU is taking in anticipation of bringing students back to campus in the fall.

MSU President Samuel Stanley Jr. on Friday said he hopes wearing masks becomes a norm and that students, faculty and staff feel peer and social pressure to follow the rule.

“If people refuse to comply, they will be disciplined,” Stanley said. “We hope people will be compliant with this.”

A few exceptions will be made for people who could experience negative effects from wearing masks, such as people with breathing problems, said spokesperson Dan Olsen.

It’s unclear what the discipline would look like. Stanley said the discipline would come through human resources for faculty and staff and through student discipline systems.

Students or MSU employees hosting guests or contractors on campus are responsible for educating and enforcing the rule, Olsen said.

Stanley hopes disciplinary measures won't be necessary.

“That takes buy-in from everybody,” he said. “It takes people taking personal responsibility for not just your safety, but, of course, for other people’s safety.”

Mandating that everyone wear a mask is an easy choice, said David Lowry, an assistant professor in the Department of Plant Biology. 

"The science clearly shows now that wearing face masks prevents the transmission of this dangerous pathogen, so why wouldn't we require it?" Lowry asked. "Requiring the masks outdoors is going to be more controversial, but I respect President Stanley's decision on that issue."

University Physician David Weismantel sent a note to MSU employees Thursday stressing “personal responsibility” after 51 COVID-19 cases were tied to Harper's Restaurant near campus in East Lansing between June 12 and June 20.

The people infected are mostly college-aged and many are associated with the university.

Seeing the outbreak concerned Patricia Edwards, a professor of teacher education in the College of Education. 

She's seen first-hand how dangerous the virus can be. It killed her 94-year-old uncle in Georgia. Now she fears catching the virus. Edwards is over 60 and said she's in the age category where she certainly wouldn't want to contract it. 

Wearing a mask wouldn't bother Edwards and she hopes her students feel the same way. 

"I don’t want to be in a classroom for three hours with students and they not wear masks," she said. "It's not just about you, it's about us."

Back to school

Administrators directed professors to adjust their classes so that out of all classes, 50% will be only online, 25% will be in-person and another 25% will be hybrid classes comprised of online and in-person elements, Olsen said.

What the in-person courses will look like is still developing.

The traditional large lecture hall-style courses with large numbers of students will be hosted online, Stanley said, while many smaller classes will be hosted in person. Stanley used an art class as an example.

The classes that do meet in person will feature reduced class sizes with seating spaced out so students and instructors can practice social distancing, he said.

Any in-person classes will be moved online after Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving, to limit traveling to and from campus and reduce the risk of exposure.

MSU Residential and Hospitality Services continues to assign rooms like normal, without reducing the number of students per room, said MSU Residential and Hospitality Services Chief Communications Officer Kat Cooper.

But there are 20 rooms in the older dorms on the north end of campus where double-occupancy rooms were cut to single occupancy because students wouldn't have enough space to practice social distancing while studying or sleeping. 

Officials reopened the Holmes Dining Hall at 50% capacity for the summer after MSU closed dining facilities in March, providing only takeout meals. The dining hall is operating according to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive order that restricts capacity to 50% and requires additional cleaning, sanitizing and social distancing.

Those dining measures could continue into the fall, but it depends on any government orders in place, Cooper said.

MSU will install signs to help with social distancing and continue disinfecting common spaces around campus. MSU is also considering providing safety kits for students that would contain items like face coverings and hand sanitizer, Olsen said.

MSU also hopes to establish a strong supply chain to maintain enough personal protective equipment, like masks and gloves.

Contact Mark Johnson at 517-377-1026 or at Follow him on Twitter at @ByMarkJohnson