Update about UAA mask policy

by Sean Parnell, UAA Chancellor  |   

Dear UAA Community,

I'm writing to inform you that UAA is considering adjusting some of its COVID-19 policies. None of these changes are currently in effect but are under consideration. Case numbers are falling in Alaska, and we're keeping a close eye on transmission levels. Should they drop below "substantial" for seven consecutive days, UAA will likely move toward a less restrictive mask policy.

Alaska, Anchorage, and the UAA community have seen the number of COVID cases drop significantly recently. The state saw a 45% decline in cases early in the month compared to the week before. This is positive news, but I continue to encourage those in our community who are feeling sick to get tested and stay home.

As the pandemic evolves, we are keeping science top of mind and taking practical steps to mitigate the pandemic's lingering impacts. Currently, we are restructuring our COVID Operations Support Team (previously known as the Incident Management Team), now the COVID Business Continuity Team (BCT). We will continue safety protocols and actively develop transition plans for the weeks and months ahead.

As our knowledge of COVID-19 broadens and we learn how to mitigate and reduce the spread of disease through multiple strategies, we are considering transitioning to a mask optional environment. With the counsel of BCT and your feedback, I am asking for guidance about how to be prepared to adapt in these three areas:

• Our Work and Learning Environments. UAA's current mask policy requires face coverings to be worn indoors except in a private office with the door closed. Last summer, when cases were lower, masks were not required. As we see the current surge in cases drop, I have asked the BCT to provide a step-back approach to our masking policy indoors such that some or all areas (under certain conditions) may be mask-requested or mask-optional. In this scenario, those who wish to wear masks can do so.

• Our Residence Halls. UAA currently has a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for students in the residence halls and a mask policy. However, these units have essentially become "family units" from the standpoint of virus transmission. We continue to have low isolation rates. The BCT is working on a revised face covering policy for students in residence halls so they can take advantage of the extra precautions in place and still be able to participate in mask-optional events or spaces.

• Personal Safety Precautions. UAA continues to require 10 days of isolation after testing positive for COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a variety of guidance for isolation periods depending on whether individuals are presenting with symptoms and have negative test results. I have asked the BCT to evaluate how the five-day isolation period is applied as the pandemic continues to shift.

COVID-19 vaccines and testing are available to students at the Student Health and Counseling Center. Testing for anyone is available at the Alaska Airlines Center parking lot and various locations in Anchorage.

UAA's goal is to promote our community's health and safety. We continue to provide hand sanitizing stations on campus, masks in campus buildings, at-home testing kits when available, and heightened cleaning and disinfecting protocols. At this time, the changes above are being evaluated and we invite your feedback. Please email your comments and learn more in this video message.

Sean Parnell
UAA Chancellor

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