The University of Idaho announced Wednesday it will require everyone in any indoor, university-sponsored event or space to wear a facemask regardless of vaccination status.

The decision, made in collaboration with the State Board of Education, Idaho Public Health and other four-year research institutions in the state, is meant to curb the spread of the delta variant of the novel coronavirus, which is fueling surges in new COVID-19 cases throughout the U.S.

According to an email sent to faculty, students and staff, masks or face shields will be required in UI classrooms in the fall — though those faculty using a face shield must also maintain 6 feet of social distancing. The requirement will be reviewed every three weeks. Fall classes are scheduled to begin the week of Aug. 23.

The message noted UI cannot require vaccination because of an executive order issued by Gov. Brad Little, but students who show proof of full vaccination will receive a $50 gift card to either the VandalStore or to dining spaces on campus run by Idaho Eats. Those students will also be entered into a drawing for two $5,000 awards, and 10 $1,000 awards.

UI will host a free vaccination clinic at the start of the semester, but students are encouraged to start the vaccination process as soon as possible so they will be protected early in the semester.

While they are free to share their own vaccination status should they choose, the email warned supervisors and instructors cannot ask after the status of an employee or student.

As UI’s regular COVID-19 testing site on its Moscow campus will not be reopened in the fall, those showing symptoms are encouraged to isolate and contact their healthcare provider or the Vandal Health Clinic and seek testing locally. All positive cases should be reported online through the school’s VandalCare Report system.

Targhee Hall on UI campus will continue to be reserved as an isolation space for those students who test positive and live on campus. Food and other support services will be provided, the message said. Students, faculty and staff who live off campus and must isolate because of potential exposure to COVID-19 are expected to do so in their own homes.

Gathering sizes in indoor spaces, including classrooms, will not be restricted in the fall, the email said, however UI employees are urged to hold meetings outdoors or via Zoom when possible.

Public Health – Idaho North Central District spokesperson Tara Macke said Wednesday she was confident the UI administration would make decisions in the best interest of student and community health.

“Public Health – Idaho North Central District is always concerned when large groups of people assemble during a pandemic, but we also have confidence in the leadership of the University of Idaho to develop a plan that is as safe as possible for the students and community while allowing for the higher education of the students seeking to further their degrees,” Macke said. “COVID-19 has shown us that there is risk to individuals even when small groups of people come together, but there is also risk to our society when critical functions are stopped and people move into total isolation.”

In an email message to faculty and staff, Lewis-Clark State College President Cynthia Pemberton indicated the school’s indoor mask policy will be updated by the end of the week, based on input from state and local health officials, the Centers for Disease Control and the State Board of Education..

“I want to make clear that, while we are fully committed to maintaining an on-campus and in-person learning experience this fall, we are equally committed to our collective and community health and safety,” she said

For up-to-date information on the UI’s COVID-19 protocols, visit uidaho.edu/coronavirus. Preregistration for on-campus vaccination clinics in the fall can be found through the shortened link bit.ly/2VMN9bs.

Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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