Unmasking Mandates [Cover]

The controversial mask mandate was changed to an advisory on April 6 by Gov. Eric Holcomb when COVID vaccinations began being offered.

Face masks still remain mandatory in state buildings, vaccination sites and COVID testing sites, but privately owned businesses or schools like Franklin College now have their choice on whether or not to enforce a mask rule, although it seems most have opted to keep it in place.

President Kerry Prather said that the school decided to keep masks required inside campus buildings at least until the end of the semester. Whether or not that will change next school year is still up in the air.

Owner of Shelbyville’s Greendoor Salon Michelle Eberhart feels strongly about mask wearing, but said her opinion on the mandate has been changed by the attitudes from her some of her customers.

“When we were allowed to open, we had mask mandates specific to our business and everyone was happy to come in [and] wear a mask. The day they made a mandate, we had difficulties getting people to do it,” she said. “So it definitely soured me on a mandate.”

Eberhart said her salon will continue to enforce mask wearing and that her family continues to wear them in public.

In regard to the vaccinations, she said she understands why people are unsure about getting one. Eberhart has allergies so she was back and forth when considering her options, but ultimately, she said she believes that unless there is a compelling reason, everyone should be vaccinated.

Kelli Nevins, 56, agrees with Eberhart. She thinks the vaccines are necessary for everyone, although her husband has decided against receiving one.

Nevins has Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs and causes breathing issues. The coronavirus could be extremely deadly to her due to her illness. Because of this, Nevins continues to wear a mask in public. She also wears one because she has a six-month-old granddaughter who lives with her that she wants to protect.

The lifted mandate was premature, she said, because the majority of people have not yet been vaccinated.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, even fully vaccinated people should continue wearing a mask in public when gathering with unvaccinated people from separate households and while visiting someone unvaccinated who is at high risk for severe illness or death.

In early April, Franklin College announced they were partnering with Johnson Memorial Hospital to administer COVID vaccines to students. Dean of Students Andrew Jones said at the April 21 Campus Chat that about 120 students had used the opportunity to get vaccinated.

In an interview from Prather in April, he said the partnership is an important step to returning to normal.

“I think the message to the students needs to be that as much as they are anxious for things to get back to what we term ‘normal,’ that’s only going to happen when everybody is vaccinated,” he said.

As of now, vaccines are not a requirement to return to campus in the fall, but Prather said the college is still studying their options. He said the alternative to requiring the vaccine would be limiting the movement and activities of unvaccinated students.

Franklin College junior and President of Kappa Delta Rho Clayton Black said he does plan on getting vaccinated; however he still has reservations about the vaccines given the blood clotting issues the Johnson & Johnson vaccines have had. He would like to see more studies about the vaccine.

Black said he intends to get vaccinated before the being of next school year, but if it is made mandatory, then more of the Fortify Franklin restrictions should be suspended.

“There is zero reason why those restrictions would still be imposed if a large majority of campus is vaccinated,” he said. “It does not make any sense.”

Fortify Franklin was created for the 2020-21 school year by Franklin College faculty to protect students from spreading the disease. It included socially distanced seating, mask wearing, Zoom classes and plexiglass shields to keep everyone safe.

Black said he understood the necessity of having the Fortify Franklin plan and thought it was effective. But he said students in Greek Life were held to an unfair high standard when compared to non-affiliated students.

“As someone who lives in a Greek house, one part of the plan that was frustrating was that I could not have a non-affiliated FC student at my house, but I could go to their dorm to hang out. It completely subverts the efforts of mitigation,” said Black.

However, he said after Interfraternity Council and Greek Housing Corporations lobbied to lift the restriction, they were successful and students were appreciative. Overall, Black felt the plan could have been better, but it has done a good job at mitigating the spread of COVID so far.

As for next year, he said there is no need to continue the mitigation protocols of the Fortify Franklin plan if the student body is vaccinated.

“I want to support the efforts of the college to keep students safe if it does not interfere with the experience of being a college student,” he said. “Living in fear is not the expectation of college life.”

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