Hannah Russell works maskless in the library. PN Photo/ Andrew Thrift.

By: Andrew Thrift, Copy Chief

UNC Pembroke is home to 22 different departments, all with different feelings toward the COVID-19 pandemic. On Friday, Feb. 25, the Chancellor’s office announced that the mask mandate would be lifted in classroom settings.

Each Chancellor in the UNC System had the “authority to modify and tailor COVID-19 mitigation measures” on their respective campuses. This coincided with the announcement from the NC Department of Health and Human Services that allowed K-12 schools to move to “voluntary masking” on March 7.

UNCP Chancellor Robin Cummings said the data shows that this has become “an endemic of the unvaccinated.” He bases this off conversations he has had with local hospitals CEOs and doctors at local hospitals Southeastern Regional Medical Center, Scotland Memorial Hospital and FirstHealth Moore Reginal Hospital. Cummings says individuals should educate themselves and encourages vaccinations.

Cummings said this does not mark the end of Covid, but says in America we have a good percentage of herd immunity. Cummings also said that if cases increase we could see the mask mandate happen again on campus, although he does not foresee that happening.

Despite less mask restrictions, Cummings expressed support for those who wish to continue wearing their mask on campus.

“My feeling is if it makes you feel comfortable, wear your mask,” Cummings said. “We should recognize that people have a right to wear a mask if they want to.”

With every department having different ways of running the classroom, how are the departments feelings towards this new lifted mandate and what are they encouraging students to do?

“Personally I’m still wearing a mask because I interact with students in close quarters such as the TV studio control room,” said the Mass Communication Chair, Dr. Jamie Litty. “I’ll wait until after spring break to see if there’s a COVID surge from college student travel. If there’s no resurgence, maybe I’ll be more lax about it.”

Pembroke is currently monitoring only two positive students, with the one campus positive rate in the 2-3% range.

For some classes with more “hands on” classes, like broadcasting classes, students are put in close contact in a small control room in the broadcasting studio. For the pandemic, plexiglass barriers were put in the control room to separate students to limit students’ contact to one another. 

“I am leaving it up to the faculty to decide whether or not they want to wear a mask in their classrooms,” said American Indian Studies Chair, Dr. Mary Jacobs. 

In the History Department, Dr. Jamie Martinez says that she has her mask handy at all times. “Several people in this department are still wearing them around the office and to teach. I don’t know if anyone is requesting visitors to their offices to wear them.”

In the classroom, some students are still choosing to wear their masks, some out of habit, and others still concerned about personal and public health. 

For students at NC State University, it was announced that “departments, units, employees and students may not require more restrictive measures than those required by the university.”

The new mask guidelines for NC State students starts March 7, which is the last day President Hans wants universities to lift the mask mandate. Masks are now optional in all settings except clinical and health care settings, identified research laboratories, excluding teaching labs and public transportation, including Wolfline buses.

At UNCP, Chancellor Cummings did not specify other settings that masks are required other than in healthcare or at a COVID-19 testing site here on campus.

Dr. Jeff Howard, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, is a member of the UNCP COVID Team. The COVID Team is a group of people from student health, student affairs and housing that meet to talk about how COVID-19 is affecting the campus. The team came to the decision to make masks optional across campus. 

The reason for the vague outlines regarding masks is Howard and the team wants it to be a personal decision regarding masks.

He feels as though students and faculty know how they feel about their own health and safety, in turn are the only ones who can make that decision. 

UNC Pembroke professors can not require masks in their own offices or classroom, they can only strongly encourage them to wear their masks. 

For Counseling and Psychological Services, even though they are in a healthcare building, they can not require masks and do not have to wear masks. CAPS is being treated like every other department.