BYU will require masks in classes, most other spaces to start fall semester

In this photo illustration June 23, 2020, BYU students follow social distancing guidelines while wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. The university will require face coverings in classes to begin the fall 2021 semester. (Nate Edwards, BYU Photo)

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PROVO — Masks are back at Brigham Young University.

To begin the fall 2021 semester, the flagship educational institution of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will require face coverings to be worn in classrooms, in any indoor space where physical distancing can't be maintained, and in "other areas where directed," the university announced Friday afternoon.

Exceptions may exist, such as fully vaccinated professors removing the mask briefly to teach — while also able to maintain appropriate physical distancing, the school says.

The requirements will go into effect Monday, the school said, a week after welcoming hundreds of visitors to campus for its annual Education Week.

"The university will continue to monitor the situation and will re-evaluate mask requirements at the end of September based on several factors, including the immunization rate of the campus community, COVID-19 transmissions and hospitalization rates, and guidance from health and government officials," the school said in a statement.

BYU recently asked for all students, faculty and staff to self-report their vaccination status prior to the start of the fall semester. From those reports, the school said that 70% of students and 76% of faculty and staff reported receiving at least one COVID-19 vaccine injections.

Saying they were following the direction of the First Presidency of the school's sponsoring institution, university officials also strongly encouraged full vaccination against COVID-19 among students, employees and campus guests.

"With recent increase in COVID-19 cases, we are constantly evaluating ways to keep our campus safe," BYU President Kevin J. Worthen said in a video released by the school. "Today I am making an urgent appeal to our BYU community: Please be vaccinated as soon as possible so that fall semester can proceed as planned.

"We wholeheartedly support the First Presidency's recent message urging individuals to be vaccinated, saying that available vaccines have proven to be safe and effective. Thank you to those who have been vaccinated."

BYU's other campuses in Idaho and Hawaii have also strongly urged vaccination among their students, faculty and staff. BYU-Hawaii will require all students to be vaccinated to attend in-person classes during the fall semester, while BYU-Idaho President Henry J. Eyring recently released a video encouraging students to consider vaccination in the face of "serious medical threats."

Eyring said 50% of students were vaccinated at the time, noting that the university would need at least a 75% vaccination rate to authorize full in-class operations for the upcoming semester.

Ensign College in Salt Lake City, which is also operated by the Church Educational System, has also "strongly encouraged" COVID-19 vaccinations, but have not yet mandated them.

Utah reported a new case count of 1,116 cases of COVID-19 on Friday, with a seven-day average positivity rate of 14%. Intensive-care units at Intermountain Healthcare's COVID-19 "hub" hospitals also at 102% capacity, according to Intermountain officials.

Earlier Friday, Salt Lake City mayor Erin Mendenhall said she would issue an emergency public health order requiring masks in all K-12 schools in the city after the Salt Lake City School District declined to vote on such an order.

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