PENDLETON — No mask, no vaccine, no problem.
In light of the state lifting its mask mandate July 1, Blue Mountain Community College elected to make masks optional for students and staff ahead of the return to in-person classes in the fall term.
David Shellberg is BMCC’s chief operating officer and the chair of the college’s emergency response team, which has been providing the college with recommendations on its reopening policy. He said the group decided to lift its own mask rules because it wanted to align its policy with the state and local governments, where masks are no longer required.
Despite an overall drop in cases across the state, Umatilla County has continued to struggle with COVID-19. Over the past several weeks, the county reported several days where the daily case rate was comparable to the Portland metro counties. The county’s vaccination rate is mired in the low 40s, even as the state as a whole is now reporting a 70% rate. Although Morrow and Baker counties’ vaccination rates are slightly better, they are also well below the state average.
Shelberg said the team took the region’s COVID-19 struggles under consideration, but members also wanted to align their policy with what other community colleges across the state were doing.
While BMCC’s fall term doesn’t start until Sept. 22, the college’s new mask policy went into effect almost immediately, on Wednesday, July 7. While masks are no longer a requirement, Shellberg said Blue Mountain will not discourage students who choose to continue wearing them.
“If it makes you feel comfortable, that’s fine,” he said.
Whether to keep a mask mandate in place has been an question that every higher education institution is trying to answer. According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, Oregon State University is opting to drop its own mask mandate while the University of Oregon and Portland State University will retain their mask policy.
But regardless of their decision, every four-year public university in the state is requiring students to receive the vaccine before returning to in-person classes. Shellberg said BMCC will have no such requirement.
He added that just because BMCC was lifting its COVID-19 restrictions didn’t mean the college was no longer taking the virus seriously, nor did it relieve students and staff from the responsibility of keeping themselves or others safe. Shellberg said people who attend or work for BMCC will still be expected to self-monitor their health before coming to school and will be expected to stay away from campus if they’re sick.