An online petition has been created demanding UND remove its masking policy.
The petition was created at Change.org, on Monday, Aug. 23, the first day masks were required in classrooms and at other locations on campus, following an announcement from UND President Andrew Armacost, a day earlier. The petition, called “No mask mandate at UND,” has more than 150 signatures, around 4 p.m. Monday.
The petition was created by state Rep. Claire Cory, a Republican, from Grand Forks’ District 42, which encompasses UND’s campus. Cory is also a student at UND.
“I just have a lot of constituents in my district that are students obviously, and they reached out to me and they were pretty upset about the decision,” Cory told the Herald. “I thought that was a way to do something about it … (to) show how there are students that are upset about the decision that was made.”
In the petition, Cory claimed that masks are not effective at slowing the spread of COVID-19. Breakthrough cases in people who are vaccinated, or have previously recovered from the virus, are rare, she wrote, and deaths resulting from those cases are even rarer.
According the CDC, at least 10 different studies have confirmed the "benefit of universal masking" in communal analyses. According to the CDC, each of theses analyses indicate that when universal masking is instituted by political and organizational leaders, new infections fell significantly.
UND, Cory's petition continues, should focus on encouraging students and faculty who wish to do so, to get vaccinated, as well as improve communication about vaccine efficacy. The school can collect vaccine and testing data to determine the school’s herd immunity -- where the number of vaccinated people is such that the virus can’t easily jump from person to person.
Cory ended the petition’s description with a quote from President Biden, from a May speech, which is available on YouTube: “If you are fully vaccinated you no longer need to wear a mask,” Biden said, about U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance at that time.
UND spokesman David Dodds said administrators there respect students’ rights to participate in making their views known. However, the school has a duty to maintain a healthy environment. UND will look at local and national data about transmission rates, as well as CDC guidance, and not a petition, Dodds said, in determining when to rescind a mask mandate.
“We have to keep the health and well-being of our students, our campus community, first and foremost,” Dodds said. “That's job No. 1 for us.”
UND Student Body President Kaelan Reedy, in a conversation with the Herald hours before the petition went online, said he supports students’ right to speak their voices, and do what it takes to make themselves heard, should a petition be created to remove a mask mandate. Reedy said he was aware of a similar petition at North Dakota State University, launched on Aug. 17. In a follow up conversation after the petition went live, both Reedy and Dawson Dutchak, student body vice president, said they would not sign it.
Students, Reedy said, are tentative about the mask mandate, but many are willing to follow it, in order to avoid having to move back to online instruction.
“No one wants to go back to what a lot of students were calling 'Zoom University' again, and a lot of students are willing to take the sacrifice if it means sticking around in an in-person setting,” Reedy said.
Dutchak agreed, and said that many students struggled with learning remotely. It’s a style of instruction that works for some, he said, but not everyone. While some on campus may “grumble” about masking, they will ultimately wear them, to avoid what he called the “worst case scenario.”
“It'd be very unfortunate, given all of the tools that we have now after being in this pandemic for a year and a half, if we had to shut down again,” Dutchak.
UND announced its mask mandate on Aug. 22, in a campus wide email citing increasing coronavirus cases in Grand Fork County. The county is at the “red” or high transmission level, as defined by the CDC. The mandate went into effect on Aug. 23. The university enacted a previous mask mandate in the fall of 2020, then rescinded that mandate on June 1.
The most recent mask mandate and petition to remove it follow UND’s Welcome Weekend, which began on Saturday, Aug. 21. The weekend saw students move into their dorms, and participate in meet-and-greet activities. For the most part on Saturday, students were maskless, though they could be spotted here and there, on those who voluntarily put them on. An administrator called the weekend a more “traditional” welcome weekend, as masks and other stipulations were not required at that time.