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Mask requirement returns to Dakota Wesleyan University

Move stems from rise in area cases, school officials say

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An on-campus mask requirement returned to Dakota Wesleyan University Thursday after a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in the region promoted school officials to act.
Mitchell Republic File Photo
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MITCHELL — A mask requirement is back in force at Dakota Wesleyan University as cases of COVID-19 rise among the arrival of the omicron variant.

The move took effect Thursday on the campus of the school in Mitchell.

“Because there has been a spike in county cases the university has reinstituted the requirement that masks be worn in all indoor public spaces,” said Julie Brookbank, associate director of communications for Dakota Wesleyan University.

The university is now requiring masks be worn in all indoor public spaces on campus. The school is recommending guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that indicates disposable surgical masks, KN95 or N95 masks provide the best protection from the omicron variant of COVID-19.

Those masks can be difficult to obtain, however, so fitted cloth masks are also a viable option for people on campus.

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Guidelines for the new requirement include:

  • All students, faculty, staff members and visitors to campus are required to wear a properly fitted face mask while indoors in public spaces.
  • Mask wearing is strongly encouraged, but not required, in the residence halls.
  • Masks should be worn between the locker room and athletic practice spaces.
  • Members of the campus community should continue to practice good mitigation techniques.

The last campus mask requirement instituted by Dakota Wesleyan University was removed in the spring of 2021, but recent infection numbers prompted a return to the policy, Brookbank said. The rule is expected to be reviewed by school officials at a later date.

The fight against COVID-19 has intensified in recent months as the omicron variant of the disease has made its way around the United States. Local health officials have confirmed the omicron form is surging in the area , with hospitals strained under the weight of new infections, a shortage of materials and a stressed worker base.

Dakota Wesleyan University is not releasing on-campus infection numbers, but Teresa Kriese, interim president of the university, said there has been an uptick of cases on campus, as well.

Educational institutions have been at the forefront of the COVID-19 fight since the start of the pandemic. Currently in the Mitchell School District there are 28 cases of the disease, which is up from 18 the previous week. Of the current cases, 15 are reported at the high school, 6 at Mitchell Middle School, 4 at Longfellow Elementary School, 3 at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary School and 1 at L.B. Williams Elementary School.

At Mitchell Technical College, a report dated Jan. 19 indicates that there are currently 15 active student cases and 4 active cases among faculty and staff. Two individuals are under quarantine at this time.

Davison County itself currently has 781 active cases of COVID-19 and is listed as experiencing high community spread. A total of 75 deaths have been reported in Davison County. On Thursday, South Dakota saw 1,958 new confirmed cases statewide, bringing the total number of current cases to 34,086. There are 403 patients hospitalized with the disease and 2,582 deaths have been recorded.

Kriese said the move to return to the mask requirement was a prudent one given the upswing in infections, but the campus community is coping with the rule as best they can. Slowing the advance of the disease is important for the well-being of the school and the community.

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“Our students are very cooperative and our faculty and staff are all very cooperative all the way around,” Kriese said. “They see the news and the rising cases and have the same kind of concern for each other. So we thought we could help a little and slow things down.”

The school will revisit the matter at a later date, Kriese said, but for now she believes the move is the right one for everybody, especially students who have a better learning experience with live, in-person classes. The mask requirement will help prevent the school from needing to move to remote learning.

“We’ll watch it. We’re looking at the case count in the county and region and being responsive to that,” Kriese said. “We know the best learning is happening face-to-face, and if we can do this to keep things face-to-face we’re willing to do that.”

Athletic events

All visitors to campus will need to wear masks in indoor spaces for any events, including sports.

For events taking place at the Corn Palace, Dakota Wesleyan University will follow the venue's COVID-19 and masking rules for events, including sporting events.

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at ekaufman@mitchellrepublic.com.
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