As higher education institutions further develop their plans for returning students to campus in the fall, many are moving toward requiring face coverings on campus to minimize the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The University of Minnesota Duluth announced this week the expectation that all students, faculty and staff are required to wear face coverings in public spaces on campus starting Wednesday.

On Monday, the College of St. Scholastica began requiring employees to wear masks when on campus, and Lake Superior College will soon be requiring the same heading into fall semester.

UMD's requirement is part of a system-wide commitment to prevent people from unknowingly spreading the virus.

"We now know that wearing a simple face covering provides valuable, albeit imperfect, protection against the spread of COVID-19, and it is a visual reminder that we must all take precautions to protect our own health and all of those around us," Chancellor Lendley Black said in a letter to campus.

Some exceptions to the requirement include:

  • When eating or drinking, though physical distancing must be practiced;
  • When a student is in their assigned on-campus dorm room or apartment;
  • When alone in a room or when in an indoor space where separate guidelines are posted;
  • When unable to wear a face covering while exercising at the Sports and Health Center.

Faculty and staff are not exempt from the requirement when instructing.

Face coverings are encouraged while outdoors on campus, but are not required if physical distancing is maintained. Masks will be provided to students, faculty and staff.

The protocol does not apply to anyone who cannot wear a face covering due to health, disability or religious reasons.

As for enforcing the protocol, the university's first approach with those who don't comply is to use "social enforcement" and have a discussion, according to a page of frequently asked questions on the UMD website. Those who repeatedly disregard the requirement will be referred to human resources or offices that engage in student conduct.

Without students on campus during an online-only summer term, St. Scholastica is in the process of notifying students about face-covering requirements, said Bob Ashenmacher, executive director of marketing, communications and media.

The current face-covering exception on campus is one that the college expects to have in place this fall.

"With the caveat that all of our planning and other institutions' planning as well might change ... depending on development of the pandemic," Ashenmacher said.

Lake Superior College will require masks beginning July 13 and is currently working with students and other campus leaders to come up with language that works well for everyone.

"It’s been strongly encouraged for the past few months and that has worked pretty well with the vast majority of people wearing masks on campus, but as we get closer to the start of fall semester we wanted to take it a step farther for the protection and safety our students, employees and guests," said Daniel Fanning, LSC's vice president of institutional advancement and external relations.

The University of Wisconsin-Superior has not yet made any definitive decisions regarding masks.

Wisconsin Indian Technical College, with a campus in Superior, plans to made a decision closer to the start of fall term, though faculty and staff are currently required to wear masks on campus as well as students in one last spring semester course that wrapped up Tuesday.