By CAYLEE HANNA
Amarillo College recently created a policy that will make masks optional in the near future. Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, AC president, sent out an email that explained when the policy should take effect and what the policy entails.
“I am convinced that if all of us who can will make it a priority to at least begin the vaccination process by the end of spring break, we can safely invoke a masks-optional policy no later than April 26,” Lowery-Hart said in the email. “This is our chance to control our own destiny and safely see to it that the light at the end of our tunnel continues to intensify.”
Lowery-Hart said that the reason why masks are going to become optional is because the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board said that colleges and universities could decide if they want to keep implementing a mask required policy.
“The governor rescinded the statewide mask ordinance,” he said. “In working with the Governor’s office, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board clarified that institutions could define their own response to the governor’s mask optional declaration based on our local context.”
Lowery-Hart said that it will not be required for students and employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but it is highly encouraged.
“Given that vaccines are readily available in our community, we build our path to safety around a timeline to allow any AC employee that wants a vaccine to acquire the first shot by the end of spring break, the second shot the first week of April,” he said. “The CDC advises those receiving the second shot to wait a full two weeks after to allow the antibodies to build. So, April 26 was the earliest we could allow everyone to get a vaccine that wanted one before going mask optional.”
Although wearing masks will become optional, some students are still concerned about the pandemic and plan to keep wearing their masks after the new policy takes place.
“Masks becoming optional seems like it would cause more cases in just our city alone,” Sierra Ochoa, a music education major, said. “We also have to remember that there are people who are traveling from different cities for in-person classes. The risk of cases going up would increase. Personally I am still going to wear my mask for my safety and those around me. We have to think of ourselves in these situations and also those around us.”
Lowery-Hart said that he is excited to become mask optional in the future and that if the numbers of hospitalization rates or community rates then masks will become required again.
“Our community has done a remarkable job distributing the vaccine,” he said. “After frighteningly high hospitalization rates to conclude 2020, our community bound together, embraced the CDC guidelines for masking, social distancing and hygiene. We must still be vigilant and we’ve proven that when we put our collective safety first, our community responds. I look forward to being mask optional on April 26. If our local numbers rise above the 15 percent hospitalization rates again or new variants emerge at dangerous rates in our community, we will require masks again in response.”