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Community Concerns About Mask Compliance on Campus

By Katie Farkas

More students are on campus and even more classes are being held in person. According to Christopher Storm, provost and executive vice president, “This semester about 75 percent of our coursework has some form of in-person component. So that’s either a fully traditional, pre-pandemic delivery or hybrid structure.”

Although students and faculty alike are glad to be back to a version of normal, this does come with some concerns about every member of the Adelphi community following the Covid protocol—particularly when it comes to mask compliance.

As stated on the university website, “As of August 10, masks are required at Adelphi for all individuals; indoor at all times unless eating and drinking, and outdoors when social distancing is not possible.”

But some faculty and students have expressed their concern after noticing others on campus not complying with this mask mandate to the fullest extent.

“Folks have legitimate questions about what happens when some people don’t wear their masks on campus,” said Joe De Gearo, dean of Students and Strategic Initiatives. “And it’s not just students; some people see other folks on campus not wearing a mask. So there are questions regarding what we do when we see this.

“It is a particular challenge for our instructors,” he continued. “When they are in the middle of class and have to stop and ask a student to fix a mask, how does an instructor make sure that they’re doing their part to ensure that the community is safe while not taking away from the classroom experience for the rest of the students?”

To help mitigate these issues and answer questions from faculty, De Gearo recently held multiple workshops and forums where “we talked about some of the things that we thought might be helpful like managing classroom disruptions including mask noncompliance,” he said.

“One of the first things that I shared with faculty, instructors or anyone else who comes upon a person who is not compliant, is to ask for the person to comply,” De Gearo said. “As exhausting as it can be for the person who feels like they are always asking, always observing someone not wearing a mask, I find that when the approach comes from a place of concern it is usually not only better received by the individual who is not compliant, but it is a little easier for us when are asking.”

Majella Venturanza, an adjunct professor in the College of Nursing and Public Health, said that from these forums, she took away suggestions on “how to use Covid time to check if they [students] have uploaded it together with checking if their mask is kept on including the nose and emailing students prior to class and individual emails sent to non-compliant students. It is good to know that if we enforce it [the policy related to mask wearing] and reinforce it that there will be support from leadership.”

Melissa VanAlstine-Parris, an associate chemistry professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, said, “Students need to wear their masks properly (over the nose). I understand sometimes it slips and that is okay. Not eating or drinking in class is one great way to help mitigate protocol issues. Don't even bring that coffee to class. Yes, we are allowed to remove our masks to eat or drink, but if there is someone who is very concerned about getting Covid they are likely staying away from areas where people are removing their masks to eat or drink and should not have to be exposed in the classroom. Kindness can go a long way right now.”

Professors are also not the only ones who are able to mitigate issues with mask compliance on campus. Students are also impacted. De Gearo said that one of the things that some students have done—and he encourages them to continue doing—is “that if they see something in class that is distracting them or a problem, let the professor know. That way the instructor can also deal with it outside of class. Maybe the instructor didn’t see it, but if a student expresses their concern, the instructor can address the entire class about the issue and keep the concerned student anonymous.”

First-year art major Julia Parlewicz said she has seen some people wearing masks below their noses. “But I haven’t really noticed people blatantly being non-compliant. It might be helpful to continue reminding them [other students] to pull their mask up.”

Ray Hughes, executive director for the Department of Public Safety & Transportation, also commented: “In partnership with University Health & Wellness and the Provost’s office, the Department of Public Safety and Transportation monitors Covid-19 safety compliance and assists in referring violations of our Code of Conduct to the Student Conduct and Community Standards office. Public Safety Officers, drivers, and our trained student-employee Health & Wellness Ambassadors check for daily Covid-19 screenings by looking for the AU2GO `green screens' and monitor mask compliance on campus. Public Safety Officers also frequently patrol other areas on campus to make sure that the community is following all safety protocols.”

During a one-week period, Hughes added “our team conducts approximately 15,000 to 20,000 app checks and 400 to 500 mask corrections and the Department of Public Safety will continue to assist in keeping the community safe and healthy. But in order to be effective, it will require the entire campus community to be on board in assisting all safety compliance efforts.”

However, De Gearo said that mask compliance, while a concern, isn’t a major problem on campus.

“Our transmission rate has been well below the county rate and the state rate, which is wonderful and we’ve been doing really well with that. So on the occasion that we have someone who does not comply for the most part, when asked to comply it has been a matter of `oh I forgot’," he said. "Some of it is probably mask fatigue or Covid fatigue. We just wanted to be sure, since it has been going on for so long, if there were opportunities for us to keep the conversation going in a positive way, we wanted to take advantage of them.”

A Covid Hotline program, in collaboration with the Provost and Health & Wellness offices, was also implemented. Hughes said any faculty or other community member who is concerned about Covid-19 safety compliance can call 516-877-6003 or dial “5” from any campus phone during class hours, and a Health & Wellness Ambassador will be dispatched to the area to have a peer-to-peer conversation with the non-complying individual. The Ambassador will initiate a discussion with the individual to confirm their Covid-19 App Green Screen, which identifies their agreement with Adelphi’s mask policies.

“If the student does not comply with the Ambassador’s request, the faculty member may call Public Safety who will handle escorting the student from the classroom if necessary, and a report of the student’s behavior will be forwarded to the Student Conduct and Community Standards office,” Hughes said.

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