Implement a mask mandate on Speedway

Ezra Gomez

When Gov. Greg Abbott removed the Texaswide mask mandate, The University of Texas had to implement its own to keep the campus a safe place for students, faculty and Austin residents.

The UT mask mandate requires that everyone inside a campus building wear a mask at all times. However, as outside areas such as Speedway fill with foot traffic made up of people studying, students walking to class and, most recently, those getting vaccinated, I’ve seen large groups of people not wearing masks.

UT should require that everyone on Speedway wear masks, even though it is an outside area. Protect Texas Together student personnel could help enforce this mandate to protect the health and wellness of the UT community.

Gregory Gym has been known for helping Austin residents in times of need, acting in the fall as a polling location for the 2020 presidential election and currently functioning as a COVID-19 vaccination location. This new crowd at Gregory Gym are currently individuals in Phase 1A though 1C: education and child care personnel, high risk individuals and frontline and health care professionals.

Veronica Trevino, media manager for Financial and Administrative Services, said in an email that lines are kept under surveillance and Speedway operation should be safe.

“University vaccine operations are set up to ensure efficient flow for patient experience and safety. Line length has been kept to a minimum and continually flowing,” Trevino said. “In addition to the mask guidance, volunteers are on site to help monitor lines and enforce social distancing.”

However, undergraduate studies freshman Michael Minton, who lives at San Jacinto Residence Hall, walks down Speedway at least once a day and finds the lack of masks, especially from the speakers at tables on Speedway, concerning.

“In the case of preachers, there's a lot of foot traffic in that area,” Minton said. “If one of these preachers were to have COVID-19, they could be transferring it to a lot of people. That specific area of the Speedway has a lot of people studying or walking to classes, so it's very high risk.”

Even though this area can contain a large number of people, it’s currently only recommended, not required, that citizens on Speedway mask up. 

Sara Kennedy, director of strategic and executive communications for the Office of the Dean of Students, advises that people should follow these recommendations and said there are more than enough reminders on Speedway.

“Folks should be socially distant,” Kennedy said. “We have signage, we have stickers on the ground, our tables and chairs are marked for social distancing. There's a lot of work that's been done to make our campus spaces as safe as possible.”

Kennedy and the Office of the Dean of Students do recognize that some students feel uncomfortable on Speedway with other citizens who may not be taking the mask recommendation seriously.

“On campus, (there is) our Office of the Dean of Students (and) the Dean’s Squad public health ambassadors who help in different zones, including some of our buildings on campus and the more populated areas,” Kennedy said. “If someone doesn't have a mask, they can offer them one. There is some assistance they can offer.”

Even though the Protect Texas Together volunteers can offer masks to preachers and large groups on the Speedway, there is not much else they can do in terms of enforcement unless a mask mandate is in place. 

To protect Austin residents, UT should implement a mask mandate on Speedway.

Gomez is a journalism freshman from Lewisville, Texas.