Q&A: OU’s COVID-19 Policy Decisions for Fall 2021
Wondering about OU’s current guidelines on masking, vaccinations and more? Make sure you’re up to speed on OU’s newest COVID-19 policies and what guided the university’s decision-making.
How can we slow the spread of COVID-19 on campus this fall?
Keeping the OU community healthy this fall will rely on all of us doing our part. Here are three things you can do to slow the spread of COVID-19:
- Get vaccinated. The university strongly encourages the entire OU community to get vaccinated, particularly those residing in congregate housing.
- Not vaccinated? Feel sick? Mask up. Masking is strongly recommended for all unvaccinated individuals when inside OU’s academic, athletic, housing, and administrative facilities.
- Anyone who wishes to mask indoors or outdoors may freely do so.
- Read More: OU Masking Protocols
- Continue practicing healthy behaviors. Other behaviors, like frequent hand washing and staying home when you feel sick, should still be practiced, no matter the time of year.
Why is OU not mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for students and employees?
While many universities around the country require COVID-19 vaccinations for returning students in the fall semester, Oklahoma law prohibits this. In accordance with Oklahoma Senate Bill 658, effective July 1, 2021, the University of Oklahoma may not:
- “Require a vaccination against Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as a condition of admittance to or attendance of the school or institution;
- Require a vaccine passport as a condition of admittance to or attendance of the school or institution; or
- Implement a mask mandate for students who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.”
At this time, in accordance with Oklahoma law, OU is not requiring COVID-19 vaccines for faculty, staff, or students, with the exception of those in patient-facing settings or those who electively participate in study abroad programs.
As we have since the start of the pandemic, OU is continuing to follow guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control. The university strongly encourages the entire OU community to get vaccinated and is offering vaccines free of charge to all community members through OU Health Services.
Who is required to get a COVID-19 vaccination at OU?
Vaccination requirements are limited to two groups of OU community members:
- Students, faculty, and staff who have patient-facing responsibilities and those who request to volunteer, shadow, or observe in patient care settings
- All those who elect to participate in study abroad programs
Why is masking no longer required for unvaccinated individuals at OU?
Under Oklahoma Executive Order 2021-16, Oklahoma state agencies, which includes OU, are barred from requiring a mask or COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of being allowed to enter a state building or office.
Executive Order 2021-16 states:
- “On or before June 1, 2021, all buildings and office space, owned or leased by the State of Oklahoma and open to the public shall rescind any mandate for the wearing of masks in order to receive government services.
- By the terms of this Executive Order, all state agencies are hereby prohibited from requiring a vaccination against COVID-19 as a condition of admittance to any public building.”
Additionally, in accordance with Oklahoma Senate Bill 658, effective July 1, 2021, OU may not (in part):
- “Implement a mask mandate for students who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.”
Masking IS still required at OU in the following settings, regardless of vaccination status:
- Patient-facing settings, including clinical research participant areas and facilities and areas where patient care is the primary function (including Goddard Health Center)
- Transit buses and shuttles due to Department of Transportation mandates
Unvaccinated individuals are strongly encouraged to continue wearing masks inside OU facilities. Any vaccinated person who wishes to mask indoors or outdoors may freely do so. The university will continue to proactively monitor the COVID-19 infection rate for unvaccinated individuals and will make any needed shifts in policy.
Why did OU eliminate its social distancing protocols?
In accordance with CDC guidance, OU has eliminated its social distancing protocols in all areas except patient care and clinical research participant settings, making way for a resumption of in-person classes at regular capacity. Third parties may resume hosting events in university facilities following pre-COVID protocols. In accordance with CDC guidance, the university recommends COVID-19 vaccination for anyone participating in events on OU property.
If OU can’t require masking or COVID-19 vaccinations, and COVID-19 case counts rapidly increase, what actions can OU take?
The university strongly emphasizes the importance of getting vaccinated. Unvaccinated individuals are strongly encouraged to continue wearing masks inside OU facilities. The university will continue to proactively monitor the COVID-19 infection rate for unvaccinated individuals and will make any needed shifts in policy. Although we remain hopeful, we acknowledge that the pandemic has taught us to be nimble in our response. To help us keep making strides forward, we urge all OU community members to get vaccinated; to continue practicing healthy behaviors, including frequent hand washing and staying home when ill; and to keep supporting one another.
How is OU cleaning campus this fall?
As we have since the start of the pandemic, OU is continuing to follow guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control. New guidance from the CDC on June 15, 2021, highlighted that “in most situations, the risk of infection from touching a surface is low. The most reliable way to prevent infection from surfaces is to regularly wash hands or use hand sanitizer.”
The university will resume pre-pandemic cleaning protocols, taking into consideration applicable government and industry cleaning and safety standards, as well as the understanding that COVID-19 is primarily spread by inhaling respiratory droplets or aerosols.
Last year, the university upgraded many facilities to support the healthiest possible environment, including converting air filters to hospital-grade standards; increasing outside air where possible; installing touchless, motion-sensor fixtures in public restrooms; and adding more hand sanitizer stations across campus.
A list of the most commonly asked questions about OU’s COVID-19 planning are available on the OU Together FAQ page.
Article Published: Wednesday, July 14, 2021