Editors Note: This story has been updated to reflect 163 active student cases.
COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
The University of Missouri System Board of Curators voted down two different face mask orders on Tuesday.
Board members met virtually at 8 a.m. to talk and vote on the recommendations from UM System President Mun Choi. The board voted the first recommendation down with 3 to 6. Board members voted 2 to 7 against the second recommendation.
Board members would have voted to extend or to allow the orders to expire at a meeting scheduled for Feb. 3 had either one of the recommendations been approved. The first recommendation was for masks in buildings that house classrooms, teaching labs and offices. The second would have applied just to classrooms and teaching labs.
UM Board of curators said although there isn't a mask mandate at the school now if cases continue to increase this could change.
"The pandemic if it taught us one thing...It's that change is inevitable and we continue to work on encouraging the best practices while at the same time making sure the operations at the university continue," Spokesperson for MU, Christian Basi said.
Some of the practices Basi is referring to are social distancing, encouraging masks, vaccinations, and booster shots for all students and faculty.
"We certainly are encouraging that and want to do so in a way that individuals want to take personal responsibility that they should take to help the entire community", Basi said.
UM, engineer professor Kathleen Trauth is not thrilled with the decision but will encourage her students to mask up anyway.
"You know I really wish you know we did have a mandate to wear masks. I think that would you know help keep students and faculty as safe as we can be," Trauth said.
The meeting on Tuesday morning comes after the university reported 163 active student cases Tuesday morning. Active cases first jumped over 100 on New Year's Eve and have risen steadily since.
Among the misgivings expressed by curators, Tuesday is that there is no local mask requirement in Columbia, so any university mandate would apply to a limited portion of the population. Choi countered that a large number of students and employees means a campus mask requirement would have a significant effect on the community.
Choi said in response to a question that the mask proposal was meant largely to keep the university open by reducing infections in students and staff. Choi said the university wanted to use every tool available.
Choi said after the rejection of his recommendations that the UM System would continue its current approach to slowing virus spread.
"We have been encouraging strongly that people mask, people vaccinate, and people get booster shots, and socially distance," Choi said. "So we will continue with that approach and we will do the best we can in managing the business continuity of the university."
Curator Julia Brncic asked Choi to meet again with the curators if the pandemic situation changes.
Choi in a message to the campus after the meeting also encouraged virtual meetings when possible and asked the campus to wear quality, well-fitting masks. Supervisors should try to provide social distance between employees, the message says.
The curators ended the UM System's mask mandate in October as case numbers were low. However, new coronavirus cases have hit record levels across the state and in Boone County as the more transmissible omicron variant continues to take over. Missouri hospitalizations have also hit record levels this week.
The curators last month also suspended a mandate that campus workers, including researchers, students and faculty, get a coronavirus vaccination unless they can prove their job doesn't involve federal funding or they qualify for a religious or medical exemption. That mandate is tied to the Biden administration's requirement for federal contractors, which are being challenged in court.
Health experts continue to tout masks and vaccines as two key tools in the fight against the raging coronavirus pandemic. The virus is spreading quickly in Missouri and Boone County, with daily case totals surpassing anything seen thus far in the nearly two-year pandemic.
Meanwhile, tests have been in short supply in many areas of the state.
Columbia College and Stephens College in Columbia have both decided to make temporary switches to online courses. Lincoln University in Jefferson City still plans to hold in-person courses.