COLLEGE STATION, TX — On Wednesday, March 10, Texas became the first state to allow businesses to open to 100% capacity and lift the state-wide mask mandate as part of Governor Greg Abbott's Executive Order GA-34.
Despite this announcement, Texas A&M University System is sticking to the new normal, requiring face masks and limiting capacity.
“So very quickly, we had our discussions internally and what we’ve decided to do, is we are staying the course with our existing mask mandates, our existing gathering mandates, and everything else we’ve been doing to try and create a safe environment as we can for the students, faculty, and employees under this situation," said Shawn Gibbs, Dean of the School of Public Health for Texas A&M.
In Governor Abbott's executive order, item six allows all institutions of higher education to establish their own health protocols. Texas A&M University System says, their COVID-19 protocols will remain in effect until the end of the spring semester.
“We have vaccines coming out and the pace that the vaccines are coming out is increasing, so we’ve got light at the end of the tunnel," said Gibbs. "But we really need to maintain a lot of the protocols that have been keeping us as safe as we can at least for several more months if not through the end of summer into fall."
Texas A&M’s COVID-19 protocols include face coverings on campus, the random COVID-19 testing program, physical distancing inside of classrooms, and limited capacity at A&M events.
With just 8 more weeks left in the semester, sophomore Natalie Baca feels the University made the right decision keeping the COVID-19 protocols in place.
“There are so many more students this semester than there was last and I feel like if people kept their mask on, it would honestly reduce the number of cases that we have here, which would potentially help us in the long run, so that we can go back to what we thought was normal before," said Baca.
Freshman Bryce Long wishes A&M would make face coverings optional and says he doesn’t believe much is going to change now with businesses reopening fully.
“I mean parties, and everything has already been going on and I mean, I don’t think anything is going to change, personally, outside of the school, but I don’t think it going to make a difference,” said Long.
At the beginning of the spring semester, the University required staff, faculty, and students living on campus to provide a negative COVID-19 test upon arriving for the new semester. The University says, requiring testing combated the spread of COVID-19 in January.
“I think our testing requirements to start the semester were very successful. You know, those were cases that we pulled out, and each one of those cases we stopped from turning into two and three other cases,” said Gibbs.
Texas A&M says the next two weeks ahead are going to be critical. The university's priority continues to be protecting its staff and students, A&M will continue to provide free testing options through the summer.
Students are hopeful that come the fall semester, things will be officially back to normal
“That would be great if football games and everything was back to normal because a lot of people said we haven’t gotten the true experience being here the last two semesters,” said Long.
You can find a list of free COVID-19 testing locations, right here!