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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC community considers implementation of face masks in fall

A student puts on a mask before leaving his house on Wednesday, May 20, 2020.

As universities begin announcing start dates for the fall semester and states ease COVID-19 restrictions, questions remain regarding what social distancing measures and other safety precautions will look like. 

In a campuswide email sent Thursday, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz announced the initial logistics for returning to campus in the fall. As a part of Carolina’s Roadmap for reopening, the University is planning to adopt new safety standards to reduce risk of COVID-19 transmission. 

“We are ramping up our community standards to promote a safe and healthy environment to teach, learn, work and play,” Guskiewicz said in the email. “This is an opportunity for us to come together to protect each other’s safety, health and well-being.” 

Guskiewicz said in compliance with federal, state and local guidance, the University will ask community members to wear face coverings in addition to practicing social distancing and frequent hand-washing. 

In a webinar hosted Wednesday by Guskiewicz and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bob Blouin, Blouin said the University is gathering masks to provide them to any individual on campus who may need one. 

Additionally, Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Charles Marshall said during the webinar there may be disciplinary action taken to guarantee that safety precautions are followed. 

First-year student Daniel Barrero said he thinks being asked to wear masks upon students’ return to campus would be "excellent" given the severity and easy transmission of COVID-19.

“I’m sure there will be some people who will not see the point in wearing a mask and simply refuse if there is an option,” Barrero said. “For those people, if they contract the virus asymptomatically, it is incredibly simple for them to just infect their roommate, their suite, their classmates, their teachers.” 

Zeynep Tufekci, a UNC professor in the School of Information and Library Science and an adjunct professor in the Department of Sociology, has spoken in favor of mandating wearing facial coverings in public. She was one of over 100 health experts to co-sign an open letter urging state leaders to require face coverings in public places to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The letter cites research explaining the importance of wearing a mask in order to slow community transmission. 

Tufekci has voiced her concerns in op-eds published in multiple national publications, such as The New York Times, The Atlantic and USA Today. Her op-ed in The New York Times emphasized that countries that implemented collective mask-wearing and social distancing early had greater control of the pandemic. 

In an email statement to The Daily Tar Heel, Tufekci said requiring masks indoors, generating plans to distribute and sanitize masks and increasing the availability of face shields for those unable to wear a mask would help to control the pandemic.

“That's been the practice in many countries where the pandemic is under control and is the recommendation of more than a hundred top health experts,” Tufekci said.

A USA Today op-ed co-written by Tufekci said that cloth masks seem to stop over 90 percent of the droplets that transmit the virus, but in order for masks to be most effective, they must be worn by at least 80 percent of the population. 

In The New York Times, Tufekci wrote that contradicting messages regarding mask-wearing from top authorities has the potential to lead to hoarding and mistrust by the public. She wrote that early messages informing people that masks were unnecessary for the general public due to a limited supply or the need for proper fitting have been counterproductive. 

Currently, North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services has encouraged individuals to practice the "3 Ws" when they leave their homes: wearing face masks, waiting 6 feet apart to maintain social distancing and washing their hands often, said Kelly Haight Connor, the department's communications manager, in an email statement. 

“These actions can protect our families and neighbors as the state takes a cautious step forward to ease restrictions while the virus is still circulating,” Connor said.


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