Union faculty to protest YSU’s fall COVID-19 plan


YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Union faculty members at Youngstown State University are planning to protest the university’s plan to not require masks or vaccinations, among other COVID-19 protocols, for the fall semester.

A protest is planned for Friday at 9 a.m. outside of Tod Hall.

They hope the university will become aware that the faculty members are not happy with the university’s decision and feel they and the students will be at risk.

“People who are vaccinated can contract the virus, they can spread it to others. There are instances of long-COVID, for people who are vaccinated and get COVID. We also have several faculty members who have young children, so even if they don’t get sick, if they’re immunized, they can still take it home to their kids,” said Dr. Mark Vopat, spokesperson for the YSU-OEA faculty union.

Vopat says they feel the university should follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommends the use of masks in areas where community spread is substantial or high.

According to the CDC map, community spread is not high in our area. However, Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties are listed as having substantial spread.

Mask and vaccine policies among universities in Ohio vary. Officials at Kent State University and Ohio State University announced masks must be worn indoors regardless of vaccination status.

According to YSU’s COVID-19 plan, staff and students are strongly encouraged to wear a face covering and physically distance according to personal needs. Vaccination is also encouraged, but not mandated.

Along with COVID-19 surveillance testing, YSU has also implemented additional safety measures including the following:

  • Wastewater Testing: In conjunction with the Ohio Water Resources Center at the Ohio State University and as part of a statewide effort, YSU will continue the COVID-19 wastewater testing on campus during Fall 2021. By testing wastewater on its way to treatment plants for coronavirus RNA, the university is able to gather valuable data that could help predict where COVID-19 outbreaks may occur and identify areas of potential infection before individuals are contagious. Five sampling devices are installed at university-owned residential facilities and random samples are collected over a 24-hour period, twice a week from all five devices and sent to a lab for testing.
  • Air/Surface Sampling: Air and surface sampling will be done to determine the potential amount of virus in the buildings. Sampling will be performed across campus to actively monitor working and educational environments.
  • Building Ventilation Upgrades: Air handling system components in buildings across campus are being upgraded. Systems have been adjusted to allow for additional run time and fresh air intake.
  • Sanitation/Handwashing Stations: Sanitation stations with hand sanitizer and handwashing stations are in place in common areas across campus.

(A complete list can be found online)

Vopat said professors and faculty cannot individually require masks in their classrooms or offices.

“Note that the policy that YSU has doesn’t include social distancing. So, our classrooms are going back to capacity. So, in addition to no mask mandate, there’s obviously no vaccine mandate. Our classrooms are gonna be the same size with full numbers of students where we know in Ohio just over 50 percent of people are vaccinated,” Vopat said.

He added that most classrooms don’t have windows, and ones that do don’t open.

Faculty members say they are not happy that they were not consulted about a mask policy. They are also concerned about recent social media posts from Julie Gentile, YSU’s Director of Environmental
Occupational Health and Safety, about COVID-19.

“We are becoming increasingly concerned that the university policy is out of step with best practices and with current science, and we’re troubled by the university’s reluctance to deploy even the most basic, sensible and recommended measures to protect students, staff and the community at large,” Vopat said.

YSU spokesperson Ron Cole issued the following statement about the university’s fall COVID-19 plan:

With the start of the Fall Semester still more than two weeks away, we will continue to review all of our COVID-19 protocols and make adjustments when necessary. Along those lines, we are in the process of gathering more information regarding masking on campus. That process includes a survey seeking information from students and employees regarding vaccines and campus protocols. The process also includes meeting with local and county health officials. As that information gathering continues, we will inform the YSU community of any changes via email and the university’s COVID-19 website.

On Thursday, State Rep. Al Cutrona also issued the following statement on the university’s plan:

I strongly commend YSU’s decision to not require masks for students as we head into the fall 2021 semester. As a former YSU student, I’m proud to be a Penguin as they are opening back up their institution correctly in getting back to normal.

This is the prime example of how the rest of our state institutions should be operating. They have weighed the options and responded appropriately with their precautionary guidelines while not mandating heavily burdensome restrictions. As the legislator of the Mahoning Valley, be assured we have several bills at the Statehouse moving forward to lift school mask mandates.

I personally have drafted an amendment for my introduced House Bill 350 that will end mask mandates for all public schools. I anticipate further discussions and deliberations on this legislation and others as they move forward in our legislative process throughout the remainder of the year.

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