The Student Newspaper of Highline College

The COVID testing station on campus will shut down in a few weeks, operators say, as Washington state moves closer to re-opening as the pandemic appears to subside.

Keep your mask on, Highline health official says

Samuel Watson Staff Reporter May 20, 2021

For those who spend any time on campus, don’t take your mask off just yet.

Despite new guidance from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and Gov. Jay Inslee lifting mask requirements for fully vaccinated people in many places, Highline will continue to enforce a mask mandate for individuals who are on campus, said Nicki Bly, who is the public health director at Highline.

Last Thursday, May 13, the CDC announced that people who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear a mask or socially distance indoors or outdoors, “Except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance,” the statement read.

The change came as a surprise to many across the country, especially after some scientists had previously predicted mask-wearing in public would remain commonplace for the next year, at least.

Gov. Inslee responded to the CDC’s new guidance by saying Washington would be adopting the same policy, thereby removing the mask mandate for fully vaccinated people in most settings. 

A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after they’ve received the second dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or two weeks after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Bly, who is also a respiratory therapist, said higher education is not included in the CDC’s new guidance.

“At this time, the state of Washington holds higher education separate from the mask and social distancing guidance recently changed due to the CDC,” she said. “We are required to continue as we are; masks are required, and face shields.”

Michael Pham, vice president for administration and acting president, similarly said that since colleges haven’t received these specific guidelines, the masks will remain. 

“Because we don’t yet have those guidelines, masks will be required for everyone on campus, including vaccinated people, until further notice,” Pham said.

Bly said face shields are only required in addition to masks in some cases, like medical program labs, where they’re a part of the safety plan. Otherwise, she said, just masks are required.

Officials at the state level will provide updated guidance soon, said Bly, which may change Highline’s policies for masks and social distancing on campus.

“Washington state plans to review and provide new guidance for higher education,” she said. “At that time requirements may change, and we will update our safety plan.”

Many individuals are involved in the decision-making process when deciding whether to change the safety requirements, Bly said.

The first step, she said, is for Gov. Inslee and the Washington Department of Health to issue the guidance for higher education. 

After that, the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges will “[work] closely with the governor and the [Department] to provide clarification on the guidance and get information [out] in a timely manner,” Bly said.

College officials will then work with King County Public Health and consider what’s happening at other schools across the state, she said.

“Our president, executive cabinet and the Public Health and Hybrid Operations Management teams all work together with this information with the goal of providing a safe campus,” said Bly. 

She said depending on the new guidance from the state, in-person classes offered this fall may see different requirements than are in place now, but it’s too soon to say for sure.

For now, most classes at Highline remain remote and officials are continuing to plan for Fall Quarter. 

And although masks are sticking around for now, officials encourage those who aren’t already and are able to, to get vaccinated. 

“We would like to encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” Pham said. “Our focus is on providing the safest environment based on the information we have today. We will continue to evaluate the situation.”

You can read the CDC’s updated guidance in full here, and more information on what fully vaccinated people can and cannot do specifically in the state of Washington can be found here.

Vaccines are currently available to everyone who is 12 and older. If you or someone you know needs help finding an appointment, click here.

Reporter Izzy Anderson contributed to this story.