OPINION: COVID confusion on campus

UMKC recently updated the mask mandate to “strongly recommend” students and faculty wear them. (Thomas White)

Thomas White

UMKC’s policies regarding COVID have gone into “half-pregnant” territory. Both masking and vaccination are “strongly encouraged,” which, in practice, translates to no coherent direction. 

Admittedly, it is an odd time when — we hope — we are nearing the conclusion of a pandemic. But the holidays are rapidly approaching with their indoor gatherings synching up with flu season. At the same time, Kansas City, Jackson County and the University of Missouri system have all let their mask mandates expire. 

UMKC has responded with mixed messaging and indecision. You may have noticed the “masks strongly recommended” signage around campus. Those placards carry the same weight as the “take the stairs” messaging I see while waiting for an elevator. Spoiler alert, I’m waiting for that elevator. There are enough stairs and hills on campus. 

The previous messaging of “masks required in this space” means something. At QuikTrip, I see “don’t enter if you have the following symptoms.” That means something. 

The result of UMKC not picking a lane is that every class and building I walk into I don’t know what I’m supposed to have or not have on my face. Some classes and professors mask up while others freely flaunt their faces. This hodgepodge approach serves no one.  

I get it, I loathe to wear masks too. A fair amount of communication and understanding is lost by not seeing faces. I’m fully vaccinated and generally healthy, so I’m not terribly worried. Plus, if you’ll forgive my vanity, my face is my best feature. 

If we are all tired of masks, the CDC says that vaccination is the strongest deterrent to COVID. So, mandate the vaccine and be done with it.

But UMKC can’t get that right with their lukewarm vaccine policy. The shot is also “strongly encouraged,” meaning practically nothing. This extends to faculty and staff, where we find even more patchwork policy. Only faculty and staff who deal with medical patients are required to get fully vaccinated, leaving the rest of faculty, staff and student employees blowing in the wind. 

The constant unclear messaging has strong guilt-tripping parent vibes: “Your brother got his shot, wears his mask and calls me every day; why can’t you?” 

Say what you mean, UMKC. You have the medical expertise. You have the public relations ability. Do you want us to wear a mask or not? Do you want us to get vaccinated or not?

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