UA officials announced in a statement Aug. 11 that face masks would be required on the UA campus for the fall semester, sparking controversy among students.
The policy requires that individuals wear masks in all indoor areas where social distancing is not possible, except while eating, drinking, in private offices or in residence hall rooms.
Despite the change in policy, which came after an Arkansas judge blocked an April state law restricting mask mandates, many on campus are worried it won’t be enough to stop the spread of COVID-19. UA health officials reported 199 active COVID-19 cases on campus as of Monday, the highest number since September 2020, according to the Pat Walker COVID-19 dashboard.
Still, some people, like graduate student and teacher’s assistant Varun Chandu Gazzala, are holding out hope. Gazzala said he is greatly in favor of the mask mandate, given the delta variant’s high transmission rate in Northwest Arkansas.
“It’s a good thing to come back,” Gazzala said. “But we have to maintain all the safety measures that the university has been imposing so that if everyone follows that, nothing should be harmful to us.”
Armon Afrasiabi, a junior, said he thinks university administrators are trying to do damage control. He thinks COVID-19 is a real threat, but that masks are not foolproof.
“Having a school year, period? You’re already screwed,” Afrasiabi said. “Like you go into the dining hall where Slim Chickens is, see everyone put on their mask to get in line, then take it off as soon as they sit down. It seems kinda like theater, but I get where it’s coming from.”
Luke Zeagler, a freshman, said he has mostly seen other students following the masking rules. However, in most of his classes, there is always a person or two not complying.
Zeagler is still in favor of continuing in-person classes and hopes the university will not go back to remote anytime soon, he said.
“I just feel like learning in person is so much more effective than online,” Zeagler said. “There’s not as many distractions as online, when you are at home.”
Micah Payne, a sophomore, said he does not fully support the mask requirement. He thinks many people do not take the mandate seriously, or do not cover their nose and mouth. That laxity negates the whole purpose of returning and wearing masks this semester, he said.
“I feel like whenever I go into, like, a building, obviously I’m not like ‘Ooho gotta mask up before I get in there,’” Payne said. “Sometimes I’m a little bit winded from walking up the hill trying to get inside. Sometimes I’m fumbling with my mask and all that.”
Payne said he does not take every recommended precaution because he thinks that if he eats and lives healthily, his immune system will stay naturally strong.
Afrasiabi said he feels conflicted about accommodating people who are not vaccinated. He finds it frustrating that vaccinated people should have to wear masks to protect those who refuse to protect others by getting vaccinated, he said.
“It seems like we’ve kinda reached the end of our rope here, to where we gotta resume what we were doing anyway,” Afrasiabi said. “Cause anyone who does care, they’ve already done the precautions they can.”