“The inconvenience of a mask is worth it”: Northeast joins other colleges with mask policy

NORFOLK, Neb. - One campus in northeast Nebraska is one of the most recent to announce a change in policy.

"We moved from strongly encouraging wearing masks to asking for masks to be worn inside our buildings," said Dr. Leah Barrett, President of Northeast Community College in Norfolk.

"This is based on students I talked to all weekend, they want to be in-person, and so for them, the inconvenience of a mask is worth it," said Dr. Barrett.

The update came out Friday after the college’s COVID-19 recovery team met. It also comes after students already moved in.

The team looked at state and regional data to make their recommendation.

"We also interact with the regional public health districts," said Dr. Barrett. "Although they can't give specific data they can give us general information about what's happening in the environment."

Northeast joins other universities returning to fall classes with requirements.

Hastings College, Doane University, Western Nebraska Community College, and Peru State College all have mask requirements.

Face coverings are only required for the unvaccinated at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and optional at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

While other schools in the metro like Metropolitan Community College require masks, and Nebraska Wesleyan University requires vaccinations.

The differences stem from each health district's data.

Although Wayne State College and Northeast are close, they fall under different districts, which provide the colleges with their own statistics to use in determining the school's policy.

But what about schools in the same district with different mask policies?

For instance, Creighton University is requiring its students to be fully vaccinated, and Metropolitan Community College is requiring masks, while UNO has neither.

"We have to hold and reserve a small asterisk that we may have to change the protocols depending on what the pandemic is doing to us," said University of Nebraska President Ted Carter in a Board of Regents meeting on August 13.

Although each college within a district is given the same information, it's ultimately up to each individual board to make the decision.

"We are aware that the FDA may likely make these vaccines no longer emergency use, and we will not be caught flat-footed when that time comes," said Carter.

"With the FDA approving the vaccine and moving it to that next level beyond emergency use," said Dr. Barrett. "I believe they'll be a lot of information and a lot of things changing across the United States."

The FDA approved the first COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer-biotech, on Monday.