YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Just 17 days before the fall semester starts at Youngstown State, some are demanding new COVID-19 policies. Right now, no masks or vaccines are required and a small group of students and staff members are speaking out.
Union faculty members gathered outside of Tod Hall starting around 9 a.m. Friday with signs and masks. They’re hoping to get some answers as to why YSU is not following the same protocols many other Ohio universities are.
“Masks on. Masks on,” said Michelle Nelson, a professor. “That’s all I’m asking for. I’m asking for myself, I’m asking for my son, I’m asking for everyone that I teach with who comes home to somebody who has a child who can’t be vaccinated.”
The faculty union is concerned because YSU has not yet implemented mandatory masks or vaccines. They are also upset they were not consulted before that decision was made.
As of right now, YSU’s plan is to go back to normal-sized classes with optional masks.
Dr. Mark Vopat, spokesperson for the YSU-OEA faculty union, said the university should follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommends the use of masks in areas where community spread is substantial or high.
According to the current CDC map of COVID spread, the tri-county area has “substantial spread.” The map is updated weekly.
Vopat said professors and faculty cannot individually require masks in their classrooms or offices.
The issue has gotten the attention of at least one local lawmaker, State Rep. Al Cutrona (R – Canfield). He expressed his support of YSU’s current policy in a statement Thursday:
I strongly commend YSU’s decision to not require masks for students as we head into the fall 2021 semester. As a former YSU student, I’m proud to be a Penguin as they are opening back up their institution correctly in getting back to normal. This is the prime example of how the rest of our state institutions should be operating. They have weighed the options and responded appropriately with their precautionary guidelines while not mandating heavily burdensome restrictions.”
Along with COVID-19 surveillance testing, YSU has also implemented additional safety measures, including the following:
- Wastewater Testing: In conjunction with the Ohio Water Resources Center at the Ohio State University and as part of a statewide effort, YSU will continue the COVID-19 wastewater testing on campus during the fall of 2021. By testing wastewater on its way to treatment plants for coronavirus RNA, the university is able to gather valuable data that could help predict where COVID-19 outbreaks may occur and identify areas of potential infection before individuals are contagious. Five sampling devices are installed at university-owned residential facilities and random samples are collected over a 24-hour period, twice a week from all five devices and sent to a lab for testing.
- Air/Surface Sampling: Air and surface sampling will be done to determine the potential amount of virus in the buildings. Sampling will be performed across campus to actively monitor working and educational environments.
- Building Ventilation Upgrades: Air handling system components in buildings across campus are being upgraded. Systems have been adjusted to allow for additional run time and fresh air intake.
- Sanitation/Handwashing Stations: Stations for sanitizing and washing hands are in place in common areas across campus.
(A complete list can be found online)
YSU spokesperson Ron Cole said university officials are in talks with local health officials and are looking at guidelines set by the CDC. He said there is also a survey seeking input from students and staff about vaccines and campus protocol.
“The survey has received nearly 2,600 responses since being emailed less than three days ago. In addition, university leadership met with city and county health officials this morning as part of the information-gathering process. Campus COVID-19 committees that have been in place since the start of the pandemic will also meet to discuss and father further information,” Cole wrote in a news release.
Cole said there are two weeks until classes start and their plan could be adjusted if there is a need to do so.