The University of Kansas will no longer require mask-wearing on its campuses — with a few exceptions — effective immediately, Chancellor Douglas Girod announced Thursday.
The decision comes two weeks after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance saying that masks were no longer necessary for individuals two weeks out from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, a move which Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly quickly moved to adopt. Douglas County commissioners on Wednesday allowed a local health order mandating masks to expire, prompting KU to also lift its own mandate.
In a message Thursday, Girod and Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer said the Lawrence and Edwards campuses will also increase their densities from “low” to “moderate” for the first time since the pandemic began in March 2020.
“In practical terms, this means you can expect to see larger events – such as student orientation – and more employees returning to campus in the days ahead,” the message said.
Moving forward, Girod and Bichelmeyer said the new rules making mask-wearing optional also signify a shift in responsibility. It will be up to individuals, they said, to honestly assess their own health and vaccination status when deciding how to interact with the community.
“The fact is, vaccines dramatically reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread and severe illness. Individuals who have been vaccinated can take comfort in this and may still choose to add protective layers such as masks and social distancing to manage their specific needs or risk tolerances,” the message said. “Individuals who are not vaccinated are strongly encouraged to continue wearing masks and social distancing, and to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”
The two leaders stopped short of saying vaccinations would be required of the campus community for the coming fall semester — a move hundreds of colleges and universities have already made.
“KU will continue to do everything possible to encourage vaccination and make it as convenient as possible for Jayhawks to get vaccinated,” Girod and Bichelmeyer said. “This will include student-specific efforts as we approach the fall semester.”
In Douglas County, it is still strongly encouraged for anyone who has not received a COVID-19 vaccine to wear a mask when in public, and especially when social distancing of at least 6 feet is not possible. And even for those who are vaccinated, county health officials on Wednesday said they still recommend wearing masks indoors and outdoors when social distancing isn’t possible.
“With your help, we will continue preparing for a full on-campus presence next fall so we can meet our obligations to our students and state,” Girod and Bichelmeyer said.