COVID Illustration

Seventy-three days after a full mask mandate was officially reinstated at Northwest due to a local and national rise in COVID-19 cases from the delta variant, it will change — slightly. The University announced via email Oct. 19 it would relax its existing mandate in certain aspects. 

Masks will no longer be required for vaccinated individuals in common areas — like the J.W. Jones Student Union and B.D. Owens Library — when social distancing is possible. The altered mandate officially begins Oct. 25.

The change was decided upon in early October after frequent discussions between the Crisis Response Team 2, local health officials and the Northwest Leadership Team. Lt. Amanda Cullin, a member of CRT2, said the decision was based upon a “holistic approach,” which included University and Nodaway County COVID-19 trends such as vaccination rates, case counts and the local risk category.

Perhaps the most notable part of the new mandate is what it doesn’t change. Masks will still be required in classrooms, Horace Mann, the Wellness Center and meeting rooms where social distancing isn’t possible. Prolonged amounts of time and possible exposure in those places were the primary factors in keeping masks required there, Cullin said.

The announcement of the altered mandate came just days after the University of Missouri decided to allow its mask mandate to expire Oct. 15.

“Every town is different, every university is different and we are doing what’s best for our university in our area,” Cullin said.

Changes to the mandate will not affect unvaccinated individuals, who will still be required to wear masks at all times when indoors. Since COVID-19 vaccination status is reported to Northwest voluntarily at this point, Cullin said there’s no real way for the University to determine whether unvaccinated students will comply with the lack of changes for their demographic.

Nate Blackford, president of Mosaic - Maryville, and Tom Patterson, administrator for the Nodaway County Health Department, echoed past sentiments and applauded Northwest for its handling of COVID-19 and mitigation efforts. Both said they supported the decision.

“I think we’re all anxious to remove some of those risk-mitigation steps when and where appropriate,” Blackford said. “So, (I’m) excited that we’re at a point where we can take those steps.”

Northwest put itself in a good position in August to be able to adjust its guidelines to current trends, and it allowed it to be successful, Patterson said.

The mitigation alterations come as COVID-19 appears to lose some of its foothold, not just locally but nationally as well. Cases are down 18% in Nodaway County this week compared to last and down 12.5% in the entire U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The virus’s local effect entering the holiday season in 2021 sits in stark contrast to its effect in 2020. Both Northwest and the county saw significant case increases in the middle of October 2020 that carried through November, the opposite of the current downward trend for both jurisdictions.

At the time of publication, Mosaic - Maryville has one patient hospitalized with COVID-19, and there are a total of 12 COVID-19 patients in the Mosaic System, far off from the peak during the winter when Mosaic had triple-digit COVID-19 patients, Blackford said.

Trending in the opposite direction, albeit a slower rate, are vaccinations in Maryville and surrounding areas. Mosaic - Maryville has been administering a “steady flow” of vaccinations recently, Blackford said.

The Food and Drug Administration is rumored to recommend booster shots for those as young as 40 and a mix-and-match approach for booster shots. The mix-and-match approach would allow people who were vaccinated with Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines to receive a Pfizer booster. The FDA approved the Johnson and Johnson booster Oct. 20.

All of these recommendations could come ahead of the mass vaccination clinic, which will be held at the Carl and Cheryl Hughes Fieldhouse Nov. 9. At the time of publication, only individuals over 65, who work in designated high-risk fields, or are immunocompromised will be eligible to receive a booster shot at the clinic. Those wishing to participate in the clinic can sign up at mymlc.com/vaccine

Cullin, Blackford and Patterson used words like “hope” and “optimism” to describe their current feelings about COVID-19 trends, but all three remain cautious, they said.

“I hope this is a new phase, a permanent direction,” Patterson said.

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