Student legislative bodies petition for UT to keep mask mandate after Abbott announcement

Skye Seipp

Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in The Daily Texan’s March 5 print edition.

 

Student legislative bodies filed a joint resolution asking UT to keep its mask mandate and other COVID-19 protocols on campus after Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that he is lifting all mask orders and business capacity limits in Texas starting March 10.

 

In the resolution, Student Government, the Senate of College Councils and the Graduate Student Assembly also asked the University to hold all classes virtually for two weeks after spring break to avoid COVID-19 spread on campus. The legislative bodies launched a petition in support of the resolution that has received nearly 2,600 signatures as of Thursday.

 

The resolution points to multiple reasons for the University to keep the mask mandate in place, including Travis County still being under Stage 4 COVID-19 guidelines, the detection of the B.1.1.7 variant on campus and other public health concerns.

 

UT announced Wednesday that COVID-19 protocols are still in place for now, but the University is reviewing protocols to ensure they are in compliance with Abbott’s orders. Kathleen Harrison, communications manager for the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, said more information about classes after spring break will be available next week or later.

 

Student Government voted to pass the resolution Wednesday night, and the Senate passed the resolution with unanimous consent Thursday night. The Graduate Student Assembly will introduce the resolution March 10 “with the hope to fast-track it to a vote,” assembly president Gregorio Ponti said.

 

Steven Ding, Senate policy director and a co-author of the resolution, said members of the different legislative groups decided to write the joint resolution because they worried the University would not be able to enforce COVID-19 protocols after Abbott’s announcement.

 

“We wanted to ensure that we voiced the students’ … concerns about mandating masks and how important it is to be wearing masks,” said Ding, a management information systems and urban studies junior.

 

Huy Le, the COVID-19 response co-chair for SG, said they are also asking the University to consider vaccine distribution and the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community before deciding whether to reopen in the summer and fall.

 

Physics doctoral candidate Ponti said the recommendation to have classes virtually for two weeks could result in pushback because it would create extra work for professors to alter class formats over spring break.

 

“Until the threat is over, I feel we should have a mask mandate,” Ponti said. “Right now, it is clear that the threat isn’t over.”