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SOU, RCC announce new COVID-19 rules

Photo by Denise Baratta People wear masks Wednesday on the Southern Oregon University campus in Ashland. School officials have announced an optional masking policy will go into effect March 19.
The schools share similarities in how to prevent spread of COVID-19 after March 11, but they won’t make masking optional at the same time.

The valley’s two higher education institutions, Southern Oregon University and Rogue Community College, have announced new COVID-19 prevention policies.

And although the schools touted many individual measures to fight against the pandemic will be available to faculty, staff and students, major changes to the rules won’t go into effect at the same time.

In a news release sent out this week, SOU announced an optional masking policy starting March 19, when the campus community returns from spring break.

RCC will let its constituents take off their masks if they choose starting March 12, the day after the Oregon Health Authority lifts the indoor mask mandate.

Both institutions asked everyone to respect an individual’s right to choose whether he or she continues to wear a mask after that date. SOU and RCC committed to providing face-coverings on campus for those who want them, and deep cleaning of facilities and things such as hand sanitizer will still be available across the campuses.

In their respective statements on unmasking, SOU, a 4-year bachelor’s and master’s degree-granting school, and RCC, which offers associate’s degrees and certificates, talked about the subject, and what it would include or not include, in different ways.

RCC COVID-19 policies

The community college noted in its message to its campus communities that students and staff who are working in off-campus health care settings may have to adhere to mask mandates that remain in effect at those sites.

Julie Raefield, public information officer for RCC, said this impacts hundreds of the school’s students. Programs affected include registered nurse and practical nurse programs, dental assistant, medical assistant and nursing assistant programs, and RCC’s massage therapy and emergency medical services programs.

“Our students will be complying with whatever their clinical placement site regulations require with regard to continued masking,” Raefield wrote in an email to the newspaper.

Pertaining to the general student population and whether they have been exposed to or tested positive for COVID-19, RCC asks each to follow respective policies on communicable diseases until April 1, when the governor’s emergency declaration will be lifted. Those policies are considered “standard” for how RCC handles illness and pre-date the pandemic, according to Raefield.

On the same date, RCC will begin allowing all college travel to return to pre-pandemic procedures, the college’s statement on the new policies said.

SOU COVID-19 policies

SOU President Rick Bailey talked about the post-March 12 coronavirus prevention measures in a recent video message to students.

“As you know, Southern Oregon University has been a role model in the way we have fought to keep each other safe and healthy despite the challenges of the pandemic,” Bailey said. “We recognize that COVID may not disappear anytime soon, but we feel we can safely return to largely normal operations by exercising caution and following the advice and recommendations of scientific and public health experts.”

He noted that all changes to the university’s policies “may be subject to further revision depending on evolving conditions.”

In a news release announcing the eventual changes, SOU hit on the vaccination policy, in particular. Current students, new ones and employees are still required to show proof of vaccination or that they sought an exemption. Enforcement of this policy will be carried out by “randomly selecting students,” the release stated.

But a notable change to the vaccination policy is that this show of proof will no longer be required for guests or visitors who attend indoor or outdoor events at SOU.

Anyone in the SOU community who was granted an exemption from the vaccination policy will not have to undergo daily testing as of March 12, the release said.

Isolation periods for those who test positive for COVID-19 will be reduced to five days, a standard consistent with the CDC.

“The guiding principle of that group, and of our university, is that the health and safety of students, employees and community members will always be our highest priority,” Bailey said.

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.