Coastal Carolina University to require masks indoors on campus

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CONWAY, S.C. (WBTW) — The Coastal Carolina University Board of Trustees voted Tuesday night to require masks indoors on campus, regardless of vaccination status.

In an emergency meeting Tuesday night, the Board of Trustees made the decision after the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled earlier Tuesday that public universities were allowed to require masks. Fourteen of the 17 trustees were present at the meeting, according to President Michael Benson.

Masks will not have to be worn in private offices, assigned dorms and apartments, or while eating or drinking.

Carissa Medeiros, Coastal’s director of emergency management, said the university had been working on a mask mandate for weeks, as the number of COVID-19 cases in the region kept climbing. Medeiros said the state Supreme Court ruling served as a green light.

“This is something we had to do based on the current situation,” Medeiros said. “I think we were all disappointed as we came out of the summer. And then as the delta variant began impacting our community, that’s when we started realizing things had to change.”

During Tuesday night’s discussion, George Mullen asked for a time limit to be set on the mandate to be re-evaluated after that time, similar to what Clemson did. Trustees discussed and set a four-week limit on the mandate, which can be revisited after that time.

After four weeks, Medeiros said there are several factors Coastal Carolina will consider in its decision to lift or extend the mask mandate.

“We’ll be looking at what transmission looks like on our campus, our case numbers, what the quarantine and isolation levels look like in our residence halls, what our designation is from the CDC regarding transmission level for our community,” Medeiros said.

CCU student Sonya Holmes said she is in favor of the mitigation strategy because she’d “rather be safe than sorry.”

“With COVID going on you don’t really know who’s vaccinated, who’s not, so I really do recommend just wearing a mask,” Holmes said.

Freshman Connor Rekito does not like the new mandate because it removes a personal aspect of classroom learning but also understands why it’s been implemented.

“Personally, I’m not a fan,” Rekito said. “I like being able to see people’s faces and all during class and see their expressions, but I can see why they did it.”

Dan Ennis, Coastal Carolina University’s provost, said the biggest spikes in the number of COVID-19 cases on campus were in the first three weeks of each semester last year. Ennis hopes this mandate will limit the number of transmissions without having to implement any distancing requirements.

“We taught last year in masks,” Ennis said. “It doesn’t interfere with our ability to communicate with students. I think for the students entering this semester, we are in a normal operation in terms of social distancing, so we don’t have a lot of empty space between students, so the mask gives the student an extra layer of protection when they’re sitting beside students in an indoor environment.”

Francis Marion University also decided Tuesday night require masks on campus after the ruling. The University of South Carolina and Clemson University will also require masks.

The Supreme Court said the higher education budget provision does not prohibit universal mask mandates but instead only prevents discrimination against unvaccinated students.

The justices compared Proviso 117.190 to Proviso 1.108 — which bans school districts from requiring masks — noting that 1.108 is clear in banning mask requirements, while 117.190 was worded differently, stating it was not intended to prohibit mask mandates at colleges.

Proviso 117.190 states: “A public institution of higher learning, including a technical college, may not use any funds appropriated or authorized pursuant to this act to require that its students have received the COVID-19 vaccination in order to be present at the institution’s facilities without being required to wear a facemask.”

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