Southern Adventist University has no immediate plans to revise current COVID-19 policies after the Hamilton County Health Department (HCHD) revised its mask recommendations, according to Marketing and University Relations Editorial Manager Janell Hullquist.
Hullquist made the comments on Thursday in response to questions posed by the Southern Accent. She said university administrators would continue to monitor the situation.
Southern removed mask mandates nearly three weeks ago. However, the university encourages unvaccinated individuals to wear a mask and maintain social distance protocol based on CDC recommendations, according to a July 12 email sent by Vice President for Student Development Dennis Negrón. In the email, Negrón informed students that administration had made the decision to relax restrictions after a campus-wide survey indicated many students and employees were either vaccinated or planning to be vaccinated, as reported in an earlier Southern Accent article.
The university will still uphold contact tracing, quarantine and isolation protocols and encourages people to practice healthy behaviors and consideration of others’ safety, according to the email. The email also stated that restrictions may be reinstated should an outbreak occur.
On July 28, HCHD announced in a press release that it now recommends mask wearing in public indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status. The revision followed an update to CDC guidelines recommending that fully vaccinated people “wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission.” The CDC updated its guidelines after obtaining new information about the COVID-19 Delta variant, which, according to the HCHD release, can infect and be spread by fully vaccinated individuals.
HCHD listed low vaccination rates in Hamilton County as a reason for its revision. According to the CDC, 42.4% of Hamilton County residents are fully vaccinated as of July 31. This puts many community members at risk, according to Health Department Administrator Becky Barnes.
“We want to reiterate that vaccines are highly effective. However, it is in the best interest of our community that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wears masks in public spaces at this time,” Barnes said in the release. “Although the risk of transmission from a vaccinated individual is low, many people in Hamilton County are still unvaccinated and, therefore, are at high risk of developing severe illness.”