By Shianna Gibbons
Youngstown State University is not mandating masks on campus and will not require individuals to report COVID-19 symptoms and positive tests.
Shannon Tirone, associate vice president of University Relations, said the policy is in accordance with guidelines set by city and county health officials.
“The city and county health officials deal with these sorts of things on a daily basis; whether it’s COVID, a flu outbreak, or chickenpox, we go to the table with the experts to make sure we are making the best judgment call for those at YSU,” Tirone said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 Data Tracker, the Mahoning County community is classified as “high” and recommends individual precautions such as wearing masks in public settings, staying up to date on vaccines and getting tested if symptoms are present.
Erin Bishop, Youngstown city health commissioner, said the CDC’s recommendations are reflected in current city and campus policies.
“The CDC passes on to the Ohio Health Department, then the Ohio Health Department passes on to the local health departments,” Bishop said. “YSU just always made sure they were aligned with what we as a city were coming out with.”
The city of Youngstown has seen a declining number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
“Right now, our 7-day average is about 20 [cases] a week, down from 30 [cases], which was reported a month ago,” Bishop said. “Almost six months without any [COVID-19 related] deaths and low numbers of hospital admissions.”
YSU and the Youngstown City Health District will continue to offer free COVID-19 vaccination, booster and flu shot clinics to students, faculty, staff and families. The clinics will take place Sept. 20 and Oct. 18.
Bishop said the vaccines are one way to help combat the severity of COVID-19.
“As more people are getting vaccinated [fewer] people are in the hospital,” Bishop said. “The different strands of covid are affecting people differently, and some aren’t getting as sick as before.”
Tirone said the university is prepared to change the policy based on COVID-19 trends or surges.
“There will be no masks for the start of school, but we are also flexible if something happens with a COVID spike,” Tirone said. “If we are seeing large hospital admits and everything else, we are determined to be flexible with those changes and those plans.”
YSU’s COVID-19 task force and health officials meet on a monthly basis but are in constant communication.
“We touch base concerning what we are thinking about doing if we need to put any restrictions in place or not. We met with them about three weeks ago, and we based our plan on that conversation,” Tirone said.
Nickiforos Mastorides, president of the Student Government Association, represents the student body in the meetings to determine COVID-19 policy.
“Due to our surveys administered to the student body by student government, I was able to properly advocate for what the majority of students wanted within the committee,” Mastorides said. “If students feel their health is at risk with the current policies, we highly encourage them to reach out.”
Mastorides said the SGA would provide supplies to help students stay safe.
“We recommend that students follow the guidelines set by the State and the University due to our county being a ‘high risk’ area. SGA will still be handing out various cleaning materials to encourage healthy practices for our students,” Mastorides said.
Tirone said YSU encourages masks and other COVID-19 precautions for individuals who may feel uncomfortable or are at risk for severe illness.
“If an individual feels they want to wear a mask, not only because of COVID but maybe because of the Flu, or anything else that may be jeopardizing their health, we are asking everyone to respect those choices,” Tirone said.
Tirone said people should stay home if they are experiencing symptoms and feeling ill.
“If you wake up in the morning and you get a stomach virus or whatever is going on, don’t come to campus,” Tirone said. “The same thing is with COVID.”
Tirone said the COVID-19 information page on YSU’s website is a good resource for policy information, testing information, vaccination information and information on if an individual believes they have COVID-19.
“We are always updating the website, so there is that COVID resource button,” Tirone said. “Anytime the city or the CDC update how many days for quarantine, how [long] they recommend wearing a mask around others with symptoms, if you’ve had your shot and how to go forward with that. That’s the best place to look at.”
For individuals interested in COVID-19 information, visit YSU’s coronavirus information page.