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York College to require universal masking indoors, Penn State's mask policy is still up for debate

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch
Penn State, which plans to hold in-person classes for the fall semester, is requiring all students to sign a waiver freeing the university of any responsibility should they contract COVID-19 while on campus.

While the majority of York County's K-12 schools plan to keep masks optional at the start of the fall semester, York College of Pennsylvania and Penn State York are adopting stricter mask policies. 

York College will require universal masking indoors until its campus population reaches a 70% vaccination rate, according to a July 8 announcement.

Penn State York currently requires unvaccinated individuals to wear masks indoors, but pandemic safety officer Holly Gumke said university officials are discussing possible changes to the policy following a shift in federal guidance. 

More:York County schools relax COVID masking policies, despite CDC guidance

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued new guidance recommending that all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks indoors at K-12 schools, due to concerns over the Delta variant.

While the guidance hasn't changed Penn State's policies yet, Gumke said university officials are willing to shift protocols as pandemic conditions change. 

"The mantra has been 'pivot,'" said Barbara Dennis, Penn State York's communications director. 

York College of Pennsylvania campus in Spring Garden Township, Friday, April 16, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Both Penn State York and York College are bringing students back to campus for in-person classes in the fall. According to the York College announcement, students will only be allowed to continue remote learning for COVID-19 if they are allergic to the COVID-19 vaccine or a component of the vaccine. 

Neither college requires students or employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, though both are encouraging students to get vaccinated. Penn State York is not requiring individuals to share proof of their vaccination status, instead relying on students and staff to follow "the honor system" and wear a mask if they are not vaccinated. 

More:COVID-19 pandemic leads to drops in enrollment at York-area colleges

At York College, students are required to submit proof that they were vaccinated before returning to campus. Unvaccinated students must provide a negative COVID-19 test dated no more than three days before their return to campus. 

Both Penn State York and York College are relaxing their social distancing guidelines and have lifted their outdoor mask policies. Penn State York classes are returning to full capacity, Gumke said, though Dennis noted the university will still use plexiglass separators and implement cleaning procedures. 

For most of the pandemic, all 24 Penn State campuses have followed the same COVID-19 mitigation strategies, and Gumke said that is not likely to change.

"It's been working for now," Gumke said. 

While Penn State campuses may see different transmission levels across regions, Gumke said the students come from a variety of areas, including states with higher transmission levels than Pennsylvania. She said university officials are considering the best way to handle students traveling from COVID-19 hotspots. 

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