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A sign encouraging students and faculty to wear masks as seen at the University of Nevada, Reno on Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Last updated: May 20th, 2021 - 5:08pm

The Nevada System of Higher Education announced Thursday that it was adopting new CDC rules on masks that would allow those who are fully vaccinated to stop wearing masks in most circumstances on the state’s college and university campuses. 

Those who are unvaccinated are still required to wear masks, though it remained unclear how or if campus officials would check any individual’s vaccination status. 

Details on precisely how the guidance will be enforced were scarce Thursday. The news was first made available through announcements from individual institutions, not the system, and it was not immediately clear how much guidance NSHE had given those institutions. 

In announcements of their own, university administrators stressed that unvaccinated individuals must — rather than should — continue to wear a mask indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces. But in a letter released to the UNR community Thursday, UNR President Brian Sandoval also suggested that the requirement would be left to an honor system and personal judgment. 

“Personal integrity and honesty should guide one’s judgment about the wearing of a mask based on one’s status of being vaccinated or being unvaccinated,” Sandoval wrote. “We also recognize there may be reasons an individual chooses to continue using a face covering even if fully vaccinated, and we encourage people to continue to wear a mask based on their comfort level and risk assessment.”

In a separate statement late Thursday afternoon, NSHE Chancellor Melody Rose also reiterated that the requirement was still in place for the unvaccinated and urged “compassion and patience toward all students and colleagues.” 

Rose said that all additional COVID-19 mitigation measures, including signage, office cleanings and hygiene guidance, will remain in place. 

The move comes at a crucial junction for the state’s higher education system as it looks to seize on improving pandemic conditions and prepare for a return to in-person instruction and events in the summer and into the fall. 

The change also coincides with the upcoming suspension of county-level capacity restrictions and social distancing requirements, which are set to lift in full on June 1. NSHE has announced system-wide plans to return to full in-person operations on July 1.

More broadly, the system has signaled an intent to grapple with the question of vaccination requirements, announcing earlier this month that it would pursue a COVID-vaccine mandate for students returning in-person should the Food and Drug Administration lift the emergency use authorizations in place on those vaccines. 

However, with the FDA authorization still in place, there is no formal timeline yet for the implementation of such a mandate.  

This is a developing story. Check back for updates. 

Updated, 5/20/21 at 4:38 p.m. -- This story was updated to include details from UNR President Brian Sandoval's announcement of the masking guidance change.

Updated, 5/20/21 at 5:08 p.m. -- This story was updated to include details from a statement on the guidance change provided by NSHE Chancellor Melody Rose.

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