Since Oct. 15, the University of Nebraska at Kearney has not had an indoor mask mandate for students, employees and visitors on the campus. This is despite the CDC recommendation that unvaccinated and vaccinated people mask indoors in areas of high transmission. UNK is located in Buffalo County, which is currently an area of high transmission.
The most recent report from the Two Rivers Public Health Department (the public health department for our region) concludes that our area remains in the “pandemic” zone and our region has only three out of 30 ICU beds available for patients. According to Two Rivers “(their) risk assessment reflects persistently high disease incidence and test positivity rates, near-capacity ICU capacity, and relative seriousness of currently hospitalized COVID patients.” All of this is taking place in a context in which 35% of our students’ age group are vaccinated and 53% of our region is vaccinated.
The decision of the NU administration and UNK’s administration not to prioritize the health of our community has also been done despite a petition where 435 UNK employees, students, and community members demanded a mask mandate on Sept. 17, 2021. After a short return to a mask mandate, UNK’s administration has decided to ignore this demand and gone forward to remove an important layer of protection for our community.
University of Nebraska’s Education Association (our faculty union) requests that the university take this information seriously and mandate mask wearing indoors. In addition, they should allow UNK employees, who can reasonably do their work from home, the option to do so as we did last academic year. These protections must be maintained until Buffalo County is no longer an area of high transmission.
In fact, the re-institution of this mandate would ensure that UNK would adopt protections that have for months been in place at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and the University of Nebraska’s Medical Center. Before the semester, UNMC declared a mask mandate, and on Aug. 24 UNO and UNL made the responsible choice to join the Medical Center in declaring an indoor mask mandate. At this moment, we are the only NU campus that does not have a mask mandate.
Why has the NU administration and UNK’s administration decided that our community does not merit these protections? What is it about our community that has led to such an inconsistency with our sister campuses? We hope that NU’s administration and UNK’s administration understand that our lives merit as much protection as the lives of the students, employees and communities of our sister campuses.
UNKEA demands that the NU and UNK leadership recognize this truth and institute an indoor mask mandate across our campus.
William Aviles, UNKEA President