The mask requirement for indoor spaces on Emory University’s campus remains in place, and its removal date is still unknown, Associate Vice President and Executive Director for COVID-19 Response and Recovery Amir St. Clair said in a July 7 interview with the Wheel.

St. Clair cited the increased risk of COVID-19 transmission indoors, waiting for vaccination rates to increase and an effort to maintain “a safe and comfortable environment” as reasons for maintaining the indoor mask requirement.

“We’re going to welcome back in the next few weeks, thousands and thousands of individuals who have not yet been on campus potentially in 15-16 months,” St. Clair said. “We want to be very cognizant of how people start to interact and collaborate in indoor spaces.”

The policy will eventually be lifted when conditions have sufficiently improved, but when that occurs depends on factors like campus vaccination rates and the spread of coronavirus variants. “The next few weeks and months will” likely determine when the policy is lifted, St. Clair explained.

One factor that could change in coming weeks is the prevalence of the Delta variant, which the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates to have made up about 51.7% of coronavirus cases in the U.S. between June 20 and July 3. However, Emory planned for the fall anticipating the appearance of new variants, St. Clair said.

Amir St. Clair is Emory’s associate vice president and executive director of COVID-19 response and recovery. (Emory University)

“We’re going to have another variant after Delta, likely we’re going to continue to see these variants, and so the plans were developed with those variants in mind,” St. Clair said. “We’ll continue to focus on preventing the spread of current and future variations of the virus.”

Despite the variants, COVID-19 prevalence on campus is currently low. Emory has recorded only a handful of cases since May 15: three students, 11 staff members and two faculty.

While the indoor mask requirement remains in place, the University has recently lifted several restrictions. Emory has operated under the “green” operating status since July 1, meaning that gatherings are no longer restricted in capacity or duration, all buildings are operating at normal capacity and visitors are no longer prohibited from campus spaces if they do not have COVID-19 or its symptoms, according to a June 23 email from St. Clair.

The University recommends that unvaccinated individuals still wear masks outside when spending time around others, the email stated.

St. Clair advised that students continue to get vaccinated, keep washing their hands and wear masks in places where the risk of transmission may be higher, even off campus.

It is also important to remember that, as people begin to interact again in public, the spread of other viruses such as influenza and the common cold will pick up, Executive Director of Emory Student Health Services Sharon Rabinovitz noted.

“If you’re sick, stay home,” Rabinovitz said. “I think those hygiene measures are going to be really important for our community moving forward, so we don’t create problems in the context of COVID still being here and these are coming back and emerging as people are coming together.”

Student Health Services will “be seeing patients again in full density” in the fall, Rabinovitz said, explaining that students can “web book [appointments] and access care if they’re not feeling well.”

Rabinovitz also stressed the importance of receiving not only the COVID-19 vaccine, but all of the vaccines Emory requires.

As of July 11, 10,875 students had been fully vaccinated through Emory Healthcare or Emory Student Health, and 12,259 faculty and staff had received both doses of the vaccine, the Emory Forward COVID-19 Dashboard reported.

For incoming first-year and transfer students, the deadline to submit proof of all vaccinations, including a COVID-19 vaccination and a meningococcal meningitis vaccine if the student plans to live on campus, was July 1. The deadline for returning undergraduate students and all graduate students is Aug. 1. Students who are not in compliance “will have a hold on their OPUS account preventing them from possible enrollment in classes and changes to class registration” beginning 15 days after the deadline, the Emory Student Health Services website states.