October 8, 2021
Dear SMU community,
After carefully reviewing the current COVID-19 environment on campus, SMU is moving to a mask-optional status effective Monday, October 11, but will continue to require masks in the classroom at the faculty’s discretion.
Many of our campus members will welcome this move, while others may be apprehensive. It was not an easy decision, but it was data-driven and thoroughly discussed. All of us have been affected by the pandemic. Some of our students, faculty and staff have lost family members or friends. Many have ongoing fears for their own health or that of their loved ones. We are all weary of the toll this virus has taken on our lives. Regardless of the differing opinions on masking, SMU is a community that has shown time and time again that it moves forward with mutual respect and compassion for one another, and that will continue as we navigate the ever-changing COVID-19 landscape.
The President’s Executive Council (PEC) decided to lift the current mask requirements after considering input from SMU’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The EOC, which includes representatives from all aspects of campus, has met regularly since the pandemic began, continuously gathering, monitoring and reviewing medical data and health guidelines to make crucial recommendations on how our University should operate. We are grateful to this group for their tireless commitment to protecting our campus. With their guidance, we were able to safely continue our educational mission with online and on-campus options last school year and to return to fully in-person classes and activities this semester.
If you have read the recent COVID-19 updates from the EOC or followed the dashboard case counts on the Mustang Strong website, you have noticed the virus trends on campus and within our community. Even with the delta variant prevalent this semester, our cases are much lower compared with the previous school year. The data shows that we hit our highest number of cases during the third week of classes in each of the last three semesters. The peak this semester was lower than previous semester peaks by 62% and 56%, respectively, for spring 2021 and fall 2020. We believe a more vaccinated population likely contributed to the lower numbers. It is also worth noting that a steady stream of our campus community is still receiving the vaccine at the Dr. Bob Smith Health Center or other locations, and we are considering incentives that might encourage those who have yet to get it to do so. As the health center continues to provide vaccinations and to consolidate and verify the vaccine reports, we expect the number of vaccinated people in our campus community to increase. At this point, we are confident that 70% of faculty, 62% of staff, more than 70% of our students living on campus and nearly 60% of our total student population are now fully vaccinated.
The continual evaluation of virus data specific to our campus led to implementing a temporary indoor mask requirement as this semester began. And now, following a promised review, we are lifting that campuswide requirement and moving to a mask-optional policy. For the remainder of the fall semester, faculty will have the discretion to require students to wear masks in their instructional spaces (classrooms, labs, etc.) and during research activities. This information must be communicated to students in the class and updated in the online syllabus. Masks must also be worn in the health center and on public transportation including campus shuttles.
In office spaces, faculty and staff can wear a mask and request (but not require) that others do so when meeting. If one of the parties does not comply with the request, please consider options such as moving to an outdoor or larger space that allows social distancing or setting up a Zoom meeting. We should look for ways to show respect for one another while continuing to provide our important services.
As we have for the past year and a half, SMU will continue to carefully examine the myriad ways this pandemic affects our campus community and respond appropriately, recognizing not all will agree with the approach selected. Expected federal requirements still in development, as well as variations in virus trends, may prompt additional adjustments in the future. We will continue encouraging everyone to get the COVID-19 vaccine and make healthy decisions for themselves. Through it all, I remain grateful for your dedication to this University and your ongoing efforts to stay Mustang Strong.
R. Gerald Turner