Texas colleges weighing options for masks, vaccines for upcoming semester

Texas colleges and universities are weighing their options for masks and vaccines as the fall semester is about to get underway.

State schools are forbidden from requiring masks or proof of vaccination under Gov. Greg Abbott’s order. 

However, private schools don’t fall under the order and are free to make their own policies.

The delta variant continues to spread in North Texas and across Texas, accounting for almost all COVID hospitalizations and deaths. About 52% of eligible Texans are fully vaccinated just weeks before the start of school. 

Jennifer Shuford is the chief state epidemiologist. 

"We're concerned about this school year," she said. "Partly because any time that we bring a bunch of people together, we know that viruses can circulate pretty easily."

Gov. Abbott's executive order blocks any state entity or local government from requiring masks or proof of vaccination. 

It means schools like UNT, the University of Texas and Texas A&M cannot make masks mandatory in the classroom. 

SMU said in a statement that it will let teachers decide if they want masks to be worn in the classroom. 

In a Facebook Live video Thursday, Baylor University President Linda Livingstone said the university will not make masks mandatory, but testing will be. 

"No masks at this point and time, and we are doing weekly testing for our faculty, staff and students who have not been vaccinated," she said.

"Part of our public health recommendations are that people who haven't been fully vaccinated go ahead and wear a mask when they're around other people who are outside of their household because we know that can prevent transmission," Dr. Shuford said.

On the K-12 level, school districts also cannot require masks in the classroom. However, the CDC recommends it for students.