Masks stay on for now at many Texas, Mississippi colleges

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The governors of Texas and Mississippi are lifting mask mandates and rolling back Covid restrictions, but community colleges and other organizations can continue to require masks and social distancing. And several two-year colleges have announced that they plan to stick to their Covid health and safety protocols for now.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday issued an executive order lifting the mask mandate and increasing capacity of all businesses and facilities in the state to 100% as of March 10. Businesses may still limit capacity or implement additional safety protocols at their own discretion.

“Today’s announcement does not abandon safe practices that Texans have mastered over the past year,” Abbott said Tuesday. “Instead, it is a reminder that each person has a role to play in their own personal safety and the safety of others. With this executive order, we are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny.”

Also on Tuesday, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed an executive order that went into effect March 3, rescinding many restrictions. However, a capacity limit on sports facilities remains, as do rules for K-12 schools.

Several community colleges in both states announced plans to stick with their Covid guidelines. Some said they plan to retain the protocols through the end of the spring academic term, while others said they will keep them in place until they review their Covid rules.

“All current safety protocols at Dallas College locations, including the use of face coverings, will remain in place until further notice,” the college said on Twitter. Officials at the district said they would soon release additional guidance pertaining to the governor’s executive order.

San Jacinto College sent a similar message to students, employees and visitors, noting that their health and safety remains a top priority.

“College administration and the Office of Emergency Management are reviewing and evaluation all options, and any updates will be communicated as appropriate,” the college posted on Twitter.

Until then, it is status quo – faces covered, a daily pre-screening questionnaire and social distancing – at all campuses, facilities and events.

Lone Star College (LSC) had an identical message.

“While we respect the Governor’s decision, as provided in his announcement, we feel that maintaining our current health and safety protocols are the best way to ensure that our over 85,000 students and 7,500 employees remain safe,” said LSC Chancellor Stephen Head. “We’re optimistic that as the vaccine becomes widely available we will be able to return to normal operations in the foreseeable future.”

Alvin Community College, Del Mar College, Midland College and Tarrant County College were among other community colleges that stated that their Covid health and protocol will remain in place.

In Mississippi, East Central Community College and Jones College announced they will keep their Covid protocols, though Jones College noted that its restriction would remain through March 12. The college said its Covid task force will continue to discuss additional protocols regarding classroom meeting allowances, on-campus gatherings, and event capacities

Meanwhile, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautioned states not to roll back restrictions yet, saying it is still too early despite gains made in controlling the virus. President Joe Biden echoed those concerns Tuesday, even as he announced the U.S. will have enough vaccine doses for every adult by the end of May. But he urged Americans to continue to wear masks, stay socially distanced and keep washing their hands.

“This fight is far from over,” Biden said.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.