The abandonment of the majority of Oregon’s COVID-19 mandates last Wednesday, following a statement by Governor Kate Brown, has prompted many businesses and organizations to relax their guidelines on physical distancing and mask wearing . But this is not necessarily the case everywhere, especially in some public colleges and universities in the state.
The easing of restrictions has resulted in changes at some establishments, although others are sticking to what they are already planning for the coming summer and fall.
For the state’s largest universities – which are planning a return to more in-person teaching in the fall – the lifting of statewide restrictions has brought about key changes.
Oregon State University spokesman Steve Clark said the university expected it would not require face coverings on campus this fall.
“We will follow the CDC’s recommendations for unvaccinated people,” Clark said. “We plan to ask all university employees, students and members of the public to respect the choice of individuals regarding the wearing of face coverings in university places and activities.”
Clark said the OSU replaced its face covering and physical distancing policies with a general policy with advice on “risk reduction requirements and recommendations”.
Clark noted that things could change, especially with the risks posed by the Delta variant. He said the university will remain flexible and follow local, state and federal health guidelines.
Like all public universities in Oregon, OSU requires proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a valid exemption for students, staff, and faculty working or learning on campus this fall.
Neither the University of Oregon nor Portland State University have plans to continue physical distancing measures inside campus buildings. But, both schools still require people to wear face coverings indoors.
PSU sophomore Alex Engelhardt said she would personally agree with an optional face mask policy on the downtown Portland campus.
“I would feel pretty good about that at PSU, mainly because they need vaccinations in the fall,” she said. “So, as long as everyone around me is vaccinated, definitely, I would like to see people’s faces again.”
PCC stays the course
At the end of May, Portland Community College assumed that its fall term would in many ways resemble how the campus operated in the spring – with much of the course remaining online. Even with relaxed state restrictions, not much has changed.
” From [the governor’s announcement] we’re probably sticking with a sustained reopening, ”CPC public relations and community engagement director Kate Chester told OPB in an email.
The CCP is in a “modified reopening” for the summer term – offering only in-person classes that are necessary for students to earn degrees or certifications in fields that are “deemed essential to maintaining health and of Oregonian Safety ”. These are mainly programs in the medical and dental fields.
The “Sustained Reopening” includes an expanded list of in-person classes – including art and design classes, culinary assistant training classes, and outdoor physical education. The sustainable reopening will also bring back athletics, babysitting, pantry, computer labs and other services with some restrictions and limited hours.
Chester said the community college might consider a “sustainable +” reopening model – a more relaxed version of sustained reopening, although there are no details yet on what that might look like. She said the CCP will make its decision on the fall quarter recovery phase by Wednesday.
Chester noted that with the abandonment of many state mandates related to coronaviruses, Oregon Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) no longer enforces face coverings and physical distancing. But, the CCP will still require face coverings, at least for now.
“Since all this just happened [last Wednesday], we are maintaining our same health and safety protocols for the summer term as those deployed, ”said Chester.
She said the college could change its protocols “if we see a benefit in doing so and this decision is consistent with CDC, local county health and OSHA guidelines.”
CCP Professors Fear Current Rules Could Fail Students
The PCC is Oregon’s largest institution of higher education, with approximately 60,000 students enrolled each year.
“We are more careful and cautious in our reopening, and this is partly related to our open access mission,” Kurt Simonds, dean of academic and student operations at the CPC, told OPB at the end of May. “We take everyone who comes in and we want to remove as many barriers as possible for the students who attend our classes.”
Matthew Stockton is the chairman of the CCP’s Philosophy and Psychology Departments on the Sylvania Campus, as well as the Executive Vice President of the Faculty Union. He said the hope that the CCP will stick to the sustained reopening plan “is not unexpected, but it remains a disappointing result for students and faculty.”
“The fall term is generally the most exciting and energetic for us as there is a real connection between students and faculty as we enter the academic year,” said Stockton. “Not having all of these resources compromises our ability to best meet the unique needs of our students. “
Stockton acknowledged that many CCP students enjoy online learning and have excelled at it over the past year, but not everyone is.
“Not offering our comprehensive learning offerings on campus does indeed fail some students by forcing them to adopt learning modalities that do not showcase their strengths,” he said.
CPC political science professor Doug Byrd echoed Stockton’s thoughts.
“I have students who are happy to be online for the rest of their college careers, but then you have students who left – they quit the CCP for many different reasons,” Byrd said.
Byrd said it’s not clear what would need to change for the CCP to agree to fully reopen the campus for in-person classes.
“We’re way over time to start moving like everyone else,” Byrd said.
Regardless, Stockton and Byrd said instructors remain committed to doing everything possible to help students succeed.
Unlike the state’s public universities, the CCP recently made a decision not to require COVID-19 vaccines for the fall.