Private colleges announce face covering requirements; Hendrix president cites increase in covid-19 cases

Face coverings are to be worn inside Hendrix College from now on, the private Liberal Arts College in Conway announced on Wednesday.

Ellis Arnold, president of the college, in a message to students, faculty and staff cited “a significant increase” in covid-19 cases and hospitalizations. Arnold said the state “is a high transmission area right now.” He also described the decision as being based on “our priority to protect our ability to run face-to-face classes safely and successfully this fall.”

A state law prohibiting universities and state-funded public schools from requiring face coverings does not apply to private schools like Hendrix.

A few other private Arkansas universities have announced plans for some fall semester mask requirements, which are expected to begin in less than three weeks at many campuses.

John Brown University and the University of the Ozarks will require students to wear face covers in class, according to the schools’ websites.

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Others, including Harding University and Ouachita Baptist University, said masks were optional, but face covering requirements could be imposed later.

Hendrix College hosted distance learning courses last fall when a large majority of Arkansas colleges and universities reverted to some in-person courses. In the spring of last year, colleges abruptly switched to distance education after the emergence of covid-19 in Arkansas.

The Hendrix campus reopened last spring with a face covering requirement in place, but on June 21, the college dropped the requirement for people vaccinated against covid-19.

“The College had excellent masking compliance rates in the spring semester, and we expect the same this fall,” spokeswoman Amy Forbus said in an email.

Hendrix students will be asked to sign a pledge recognizing their shared responsibilities in reducing the spread of covid-19, Forbus said, adding that a similar pledge was required in January.

“The students acknowledge with their signature that failure to meet the undertaking may result in disciplinary action through the office of the dean of students,” said Forbus.

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At John Brown University, a private Christian college in Siloam Springs, masks will be required in classrooms, during church services, in dining rooms, and for groups of more than 12 people meeting indoors. , according to a letter to students.

In the letter, college president Chip Pollard cited the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s covid-19 guidelines. He referred to the CDC’s recommendations for people living in areas with high coronavirus transmission, which state that vaccinated people as well as unvaccinated people should wear face coverings in indoor public spaces.

Pollard said masks will be optional outdoors and in residences, as well as when groups of 10 or fewer meet indoors.

Masks will also be optional for teachers during lessons “as long as a distance of six feet is maintained,” Pollard said. The campus will impose a distance of 3 feet in its classrooms and dining rooms.

“We will ease these restrictions when Benton County maintains a ‘moderate’ level of transmission,” Pollard said, his post including a link to the county-level CDC online data listing four levels of transmission: low, moderate, substantial or high.

John Brown University strongly recommends but does not require students to be vaccinated against covid-19.

“To the best of our knowledge, 66% of faculty and staff are vaccinated and 35% of students,” Pollard wrote in his campus post, adding that “vaccines have been shown to be safe and very effective against the most severe consequences. severe disease. “

Julie Gumm, spokesperson for John Brown University, said Pollard’s post aired on Wednesday, with campus masking requirements due to take effect on Monday.

Forbus, working with Hendrix College, said there was no vaccination requirement for students.

But unvaccinated Hendrix students will need to take covid-19 tests at two-week intervals during the fall semester.

Unvaccinated students – unless they have a health condition that prevents them from getting the vaccine, or unless they go through a state exemption process in place for mumps vaccines, measles and rubella, or MMR – will have to shoulder the costs of these tests, says Forbus. The college estimates the cost at $ 87 per test.

Hendrix College says on its website that as of July 29, 79.5% of its students had been vaccinated and 87% of employees.

Arnold, the president of Hendrix, said that a COVID-19 campus steering committee “will continue to adjust policies and requirements as necessary based on the latest available public health data and guidance” from the CDC and others. authorities.

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