All Ohio university employees are now required by state law to wear masks or facial coverings this fall with few exceptions and undergo daily health assessments, including getting their temperature taken, according to a document jointly released Thursday by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and The Ohio Department of Health.
Ohio, however, didn’t mandate that universities require students to wear facial coverings, leaving that decision up to each institution’s leadership. But the state recommends that students cover their faces with few exceptions.
OU previously indicated that it has strongly considered requiring mask-wearing for both students and staff inside all university facilities, though individuals would largely be required to provide their own masks.
If wearing facial coverings impede staff members' “academic content delivery” they have the option to use face shields or have physical barriers, like plexiglass, installed, according to the document.
Students and staff are also required to preserve at least six feet of distance from one another “to the greatest extent feasible.”
The document was released as part of the state's Responsible RestartOhio initiative, which provides guidelines for reopening sectors of the economy, including higher education.
“Higher education plays a critical role with respect to the economic resurgence that lies ahead,” the document’s preamble said. “Ohio’s campuses are the economic engine of towns and communities across the state; producers of talent to fuel essential workforce pipelines; and beacons of opportunity drawing individuals to our great state in search of the opportunity that accompanies a postsecondary credential."
OU President Duane Nellis in a press release praised the mandates imposed by DeWine and the state health department, saying many of the provisions closely align with the preventative policies the university is actively considering as it finalizes its official reopening plan. It’s unclear when a final plan will be unveiled.
"I am extremely grateful for Gov. Mike DeWine’s leadership and strong support of higher education, especially during these unpredictable and unprecedented times,” Nellis said. “Today’s announcement for a responsible 'restart' of higher education includes best practices that will enable Ohio University to continue to provide a high-quality educational experience for our students with health and safety top-of-mind.”
Ohio also required that universities comply with the guidelines provided by the state and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concerning sanitation, residence halls, classrooms, dining facilities, retail operations, office environments, campus visitations, study abroad programs and recreational facilities.
Additionally, DeWine announced that he's asking the Ohio Controlling Board, which oversees the state budget, to allocate $200 million in federal CARES Act funding for higher education to flexibly spend on preventative safety measures.
That request is in addition to the $190 million in federal CARES Act funding that was allocated to universities across the state, of which OU distributed $9.7 million to enrolled students over the past few months to help them pay for schooling-related expenses like housing or textbooks.
Hocking College in a press release applauded DeWine's attempt to secure more federal funding for higher education. The college previously received $2.4 million from Ohio's initial disbursement of CARES Act funding, according to the release.
"The support he has given to our colleges, for the specific needs we have at this time, will make it possible to deliver on the promise of opportunity for all who are willing to do the work, gain the skills and get back to work for Ohio communities," the release said.