Leibold: Too early to eliminate masks for spring semester


April Lee / Advance-Titan – Javin Mills does a COVID test at the Albee Hall testing site.

Kyra Slakes, Staff writer

UW Oshkosh hopes to further reduce or eliminate masks and COVID-19 testing mandates in the spring semester, but University Police Chief Kurt Leibold said it is too early to make that call.

Part of the indecision is due to COVID’s latest variant of concern. On Dec. 4, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported that the omicron variant had been found in the state. A Milwaukee man who had traveled to South Africa tested positive for the variant, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had listed as a variant of concern on Nov. 30. Variants are classified as variants of concern if they show evidence of being more contagious, causing more severe illness or resistance to diagnostics, treatments or vaccines.

In the meantime, the number of positive COVID-19 cases continues to rise in the state, with many of the Fox Valley hospitals at capacity and causing some patients to drive hundreds of miles from home to receive hospital care. As of Dec. 1, 26 counties in the state were “critically high” and 46 counties were “very high.” The seven-day average of new confirmed cases was 3,548 in Wisconsin as of Dec. 3.

This fall, UWO was able to take some steps back to normalcy by getting rid of mask mandates in Polk Library, residence halls and the Student Recreation Center.

Peggy Breister, executive director of marketing and communications, said: “UW Oshkosh continues to monitor COVID-19 case rates on our campuses and data from local and state health officials to inform its decisions regarding University health and safety protocols. At this time UWO has not instituted a protocol requiring faculty to get the COVID-19 vaccine.” 

However, other state universities, including UW-Madison, UW-Milwaukee and Marquette University, are requiring staff and faculty to get COVID vaccinations and comply with President Biden’s order requiring vaccination for all federal contractors.

Breister said UWO’s Emergency Operations Committee is monitoring health data related to COVID-19 and the variants, including the new omicron variant. 

“Information on omicron is emerging daily, and it is too early to make recommendations that would alter our current practices: mask and testing protocols remain unchanged,” Breister said. 

However, university and state health officials continue to stress the importance of getting vaccinated. To learn where you can get vaccinated on campus, go to uwosh.edu/titans-return/vaccination.