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BYU urges return to masks on campus

Many at university’s Education Week wear face coverings following First Presidency message

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Some people wore masks while attending Education Week at BYU on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.

Jennifer Camp wears a mask while standing in line for ice cream with her daughter and aunt after attending Education Week classes at BYU in Provo, Utah, on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.

Tad Walch/Deseret News

BYU is encouraging the campus community to wear masks again as the COVID-19 Delta variant spreads, but it is not a mandate — yet.

The university updated its COVID-19 information page over the weekend:

“Consistent with the recent message of The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYU urges all employees, students and guests to wear masks indoors at BYU when physical distancing is not possible. This includes those attending BYU Education Week (August 16–20).”

Thursday is the deadline set previously for students, faculty and staff to report their vaccination status to BYU, which said it will keep personal information private but use it to determine its policies on protecting the campus from the virus and its variants.

“Data about the BYU community vaccination rates will help inform COVID-19 protocol decisions for fall semester, such as mask requirements,” the administration said two weeks ago in a news release.

BYU is sponsored by the church. The university’s board of trustees is chaired by church President Russell M. Nelson. The vice chairs are Presidents Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring — the three men who make up the First Presidency. On Thursday, they released a message declaring the available COVID-19 vaccines safe and effective and said they provide protection against severe infections. They urged people to be vaccinated.

Their message also addressed face coverings.

“To limit exposure to these viruses, we urge the use of face masks in public meetings whenever social distancing is not possible,” the First Presidency wrote.

This is the week between BYU’s summer term and fall semester that some colloquially refer to as “homeless week,” when students clear out of on-campus dorms that instead fill up with adults from all over the country who are visiting for Education Week.

The Education Week website did not mandate masks. Instead, it repeated BYU’s message encouraging them and added, “Masks will be available at the hosting table in each building where classes are held.”

Many BYU staffers wore masks throughout campus on Monday, including a majority percentage of employees at the Marriott School of Business in the Tanner Building.

Many people attending Education Week also wore masks, BYU spokeswoman Carrie Jenkins said.

Dave Rasmussen wore a mask Monday afternoon while he stood in line at the Cougareat food court in the Wilkinson Student Center. An airline pilot from Bountiful, Utah, who is attending Education Week for the financial courses, Rasmussen said he personally chooses to wear a mask when he can’t physically distance from others because they are effective.

“Masks help because they stop water droplets,” he said. “It’s a good idea to wear one when you’re near other people.”

Crowds and programming are smaller at Education Week on Mondays, when nearly 100 classes were offered. The number of courses more than doubles Tuesday through Friday.

Some people wear masks during an Education Week class on temples at BYU on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.

Some people wear masks while attending an Education Week class on parallels between ancient and modern temples at BYU on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.

Tad Walch/Deseret News

Of the hundreds of people who attended a class Monday afternoon about the parallels between ancient and modern temples in the vast Wilkinson Center Ballroom, a percentage below 50% wore face coverings.

Some said they didn’t wear them because they are vaccinated.

Jennifer Camp of Redlands, California, wore a mask Monday as she stood in line for ice cream in the Cougareat with her daughter and aunt.

“I didn’t feel the urgency like some others and I had some anxiety about the vaccines,” she said. “Then when I saw the prophet’s counsel last week, I prayed about it and decided to be vaccinated. On my way to get the shot, I felt peace. Now I’m wearing the mask to stay safe until my second shot.”