Mask mandate no longer in effect at UNLV campus

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Percussion performance in the Fine Arts building. Photo by Jimmy Romo

The mask mandate on campus has abruptly been removed after Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Nevada no longer requires the public to wear face masks. 

At 10 a.m. on Feb. 10, Sisolak held a press conference where he announced that the mask mandate was removed for the general public. 

“We have seen a rapid decline in case numbers,” Sisolak said in a press conference. “Coupled with the declining number of hospitalizations, a drop in COVID-19 detected in wastewater and a broader availability of testing, and an increase in available treatments,”

“Now is the appropriate time for me to announce that Nevada will rescind our mask mandate effective immediately,” Sisolak said. “Masks will no longer be required in public places, but there are still locations where you may be asked to wear a mask.”  

Places where the public could be asked to wear masks are those locations that are serving vulnerable populations. This includes hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities. Other locations like public transportation, airports, airplanes, public buses, and school buses, which are federally protected.  

But not everyone agrees with the drop of the mask mandate, Brain Labus, epidemiologist and assistant professor for UNLV, believes it is still too early. 

“I would love to see the mask mandate go on much longer, as most public health people would,” Labus said. “But it’s a matter of it not necessarily being practical. It’s become a very political issue. And if we spend all our time arguing about the mandate, we don’t spend our time actually trying to stop COVID.” 

UNLV has made an emphasis that KN95 and N95 masks are free while supplies last at the front desk of the Student Union and offer the greatest coverage. 

Labus ensures that the reason for removing the mask mandate was not related to the effectiveness of face masks, but whether to require them or not. This decision does not change people’s abilities of wearing a mask and the public health recommendation that everyone should be wearing a mask.

When Sisolak was asked why Nevada is no longer following the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) directives, he responded.

“The CDC guidelines were put in place prior to delta and that was as related to the delta variant,” Sisolak said. “Now we’re dealing with the omicron variant which is more transmissible, much more contagious, but not as severe and doesn’t require the same number of hospitalizations.” 

He continues to mention that his decision is based on the drop in positive cases, hospitalizations, and the wastewater testing. Sisolak is hopeful for a continued downward trend. Labus provides extra resaurance. 

“We’re seeing less transmission in the community and we saw three or four weeks ago when the semester started,” Labus said. “Things are trending in that direction according to basically every indicator that we have. So things are getting better. It doesn’t mean things are good, but things are heading in the right direction.”

Epidemiologists are looking at the percent positivity, the number of cases, the number of people being tested and all of them are decreasing over time, according to Labus. The current strain also seems to be less severe than previous strains.

Sisolak mentioned that the decision may be interpreted as too late or too soon for Nevadens. 

“People are saying ‘you did it too soon,’ ‘you did it too late.’ I get that everyone is entitled to an opinion. Everyone has an opinion,” he said. “I have to make the decision, I can’t let everyone make a decision individually until today.” 

The Nevada System of Higher Education released a statement that would no longer require higher education schools in Nevada to require the use of face masks. 

The statement reads “NSHE employees, students, and members of the public are no longer required to wear face coverings while inside NSHE buildings irrespective of the COVID19 vaccination status effective immediately. This includes classrooms and workspaces.” 

UNLV followed the new initiative where UNLV President, Keith Whiftield and Vice President and Provost, Chris Heavey assured students that the university would be following Sisolak’s decision. 

“More than 91 percent of UNLV’s students and 97 percent of our employees have been vaccinated,” Whitfield and Heavey said in an email to students. “Our vaccination rate is one of the main reasons why the COVID-19 virus has had less of an impact on the UNLV campuses than in the Las Vegas community at large.”

“To the Nevadans and travelers that have done the right thing, gotten vaccinated, stayed diligent and protected each other for the last two years,” Sisolak said. “From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”

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