weather icon Clear

Face mask backers urge Board of Regents to make them mandatory for all

Proponents of tighter face mask restrictions on college campuses this fall on Friday urged the Nevada Board of Regents to go beyond a mandate for employees working in crowded indoor spaces approved this week by the Clark County Commission.

Unlike Tuesday’s commission meeting, when opponents of face mask requirements dominated the discussion, a majority of proponents of the coverings and other mitigation measures outnumbered the foes during Friday’s hour-plus public comment period.

Most of the speakers appeared to be Nevada System of Higher Education employees concerned about the low COVID-19 vaccination rate among college students and the risks to employees who’ll spend hours in close proximity with them. Most of them said that unlike the Clark County mandate approved Tuesday, the regents should require masks for students and visitors as well.

Some called on the regents to require vaccination in addition to masks.

On the other side of the debate, only a handful of commenters stated they were opposed to a mask mandate.

Among those speaking in favor of tighter mask restrictions was Brian Labus, an epidemiologist and assistant professor for the UNLV School of Public Health, who said he would like to see an immediate requirement for “all members of the Southern Nevada NSHE community” to wear one.

With COVID-19 metrics on the rise in the state and on-campus classes resuming soon, additional precautions are required to prevent infections, said Labus.

He was critical of the County Commission’s vote this week to require workers to wear masks in crowded indoor public spaces, regardless of their vaccination status. The requirement, which took effect Thursday, doesn’t apply to the general public.

Nevada has led the nation in new COVID-19 cases since June, most of them caused by the more contagious delta variant, he said. Only a quarter of people younger than 20 in the state have initiated vaccination, Labus said, and those 18 to 24 have the highest rates of COVID-19 infection.

“Instead, we have created the conditions that will allow COVID to flourish” in the state’s colleges, Labus said. “Our students will be at risk. Our faculty and staff will be at risk. And that risk will spread to the community.”

“The idea that we will stop the spread of disease in a large lecture hall by only requiring that the professor wear a mask, or that we can protect tens of thousands of fans at a UNLV football game by only making the ushers and food vendors wear masks is simply nonsensical,” he said.

Colleges and universities have held the vast majority of classes remotely since March 2020 due to the pandemic, but are planning to transition to mostly in-person classes starting in August.

In a Wednesday memo to NSHE employees, Chancellor Melody Rose said the Clark County mask mandate applies to the higher education system’s facilities at UNLV, College of Southern Nevada, Nevada State College, Desert Research Institute and NSHE system administration and system computing services.

“This new face covering policy does not apply to non-working students or members of the public while visiting an NSHE campus,” Rose wrote. “Current face covering policies for students and members of the public shall remain in effect, and individuals who have fully received a COVID-19 vaccine and who are not NSHE employees may choose to remove their face covering while inside an NSHE building.”

She told the regents that the system’s COVID-19 task force has met three times in the last five days to consider options to prepare for fall semester and will soon issue a comprehensive set of science-based policy recommendations.

“We will consider all necessary actions and resources,” she said.

Rose didn’t provide further details about what’s being considered or a possible timeline for when decisions will be made.

In May, the higher education system announced it was drafting plans to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for students for fall semester. But that’s contingent on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration first lifting the emergency use authorization for a vaccine, which hasn’t happened.

Regents approve merger

On another matter, the regents on Friday approved an agreement allowing the private Sierra Nevada University in Incline Village to become part of the University of Nevada, Reno.

The two schools announced earlier this month they were proposing a gradual merger of operations and programs. Regents received many public comments in support of the link-up.

The change will still require final approval — a process that will likely take several months — from the accreditation organization Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities and the U.S. Department of Education.

Sierra Nevada University, which opened in 1969, anticipates having about 200 undergraduate and 325 graduate students for the upcoming school year.

In addition to a 20-acre main campus near Lake Tahoe, the private university has leased facilities in Henderson and Reno.

The university was financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to online board meeting materials. But UNR concluded the private university has sufficient resources in order to allow for a merger.

Sierra Nevada University trustees determined a transfer of assets and operations to UNR “would be the most appropriate path for protecting the SNU students,” according to meeting materials.

Once a transitional period is complete, the Incline Village campus will be a branch campus of UNR.

UNR and SNU officials have started working on an academic plan — expected to be completed this fall — to ensure all SNU students “will have a pathway to degree completion,” according to meeting materials.

For the upcoming school year, SNU students will continue their studies with little change.

SNU announced Friday its President Rob Valli will finish his appointment July 30. Until the merger is approved by federal regulators, the SNU board of trustees will take over the governance role.

Atam Lalchandani, chair of SNU’s board of trustees, told regents the private school’s culture and size provide a personalized experience for students, he said, also noting that many academic programs are interdisciplinary.

UNR President Brian Sandoval said the merger will create something “truly special” between the two communities and two schools. He called it a generational-type opportunity that will transform Nevada education.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
150 Afghan refugees headed for Nevada

California and Texas will host the most refugees from Afghanistan, as the Biden administration works to settle about 65,000 people from the war-torn country.

Mount Charleston Lodge ‘lost’ to early morning fire

The A-frame building that has long been a favored escape from the heat for Las Vegas locals replaced the previous lodge, which was destroyed by fire in 1961.

20th Anniversary of Sept. 11 attacks marked in Pahrump

It was an emotional morning at the First Responders Reflection Area in Pahrump when members of the Rotary Club of the Pahrump Valley and the local community gathered together in remembrance of one of the most tragic moments in American history, the terrorist attacks that had the entire country frozen with horror on Sept. 11, 2001.

Nevada Recovers Listening Tour coming to Pahrump

Early last month, the Nevada governor’s office and Nevada treasurer’s office kicked off the Nevada Recovers Listening Tour, a 75-day calendar of trips to communities all across the Silver State geared toward gathering public input on how the state can best use the billions of dollars that are pouring into its coffers as a result of the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act, better known as the ARPA.

VA encouraging veterans to get an annual flu shot

As the autumn season arrives next week, officials at the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System are encouraging all veterans to get their vaccination for the influenza virus.

Crash shuts down the main thoroughfare

One person was transported to Desert View Hospital on Tuesday, Sept. 14, following a two-vehicle crash at the intersection of Pahrump Valley Boulevard and Bourbon Street.

AG Ford rejects Texas abortion ban

The state of Nevada has joined more than 20 other states in opposing Texas’ law banning abortions after six weeks.

County opens applications for financial analysts to work on ARPA grants

Last week, the Nye County Commission gave the green light to the Nye County Finance Department to hire two new staff members who will focus on assisting with the administration of the $9 million the county is receiving in American Rescue Plan Act funding and the application process for those hoping to fill one of those positions was officially opened on Friday, Sept. 10.