CORONAVIRUS

University of Iowa students say they're 'likely' to wear masks

But many are less optimistic about how their peers will behave

(Dreamstime/TNS)
(Dreamstime/TNS)

IOWA CITY — The vast majority of recently surveyed University of Iowa students say they’re likely to wear masks in public when they return to campus this fall.

But most are less optimistic about their peers.

In hopes of gauging student willingness to cover their faces just weeks before tens of thousands flood the Iowa City campus in the midst of a pandemic, the university on July 27 distributed a survey to 2,000 students. About 21 percent, or 427, completed it.

Respondents indicted they’re taking the virus seriously, are concerned about becoming infected on campus and are likely to wear a mask in public when they return — something all three of Iowa’s public universities are mandating, although enforcement tactics vary across the institutions.

About 77 percent of the UI survey respondents said they’re “very likely” to wear a mask on campus and 15 percent said they’re “somewhat likely.” About 7 percent say they’re either “not too likely” or “not at all likely” to wear a mask.

And more female respondents — 84 percent — said they’re very likely to wear a mask than male respondents — 69 percent, according to the survey results made public Friday.

Three-quarters said they’re either somewhat or very concerned about becoming infected with COVID-19 if they return to campus this fall. And, when asked about their COVID-19-related behavior to date, nearly all said they’ve worn a mask in public, about three-quarters said they’ve opted against attending parties or large gatherings and more than half said they’ve avoided restaurants and bars.

But when asked how likely they think other students are to comply with potential bans on parties and large social gatherings on campus, 87 percent said they believe their peers are either “not too likely” or “not at all likely” to observe the restrictions.

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“This reflects similar responses in National College Health Assessment (NCHA) survey, in which students assume riskier behavior by their peers than is reflected in the data,” according to a UI communication on the findings.

A majority of students who completed the survey, though, said they would obey social and party bans. And just under half said they’d be “not at all comfortable” attending a party where most students were mask-less. About a quarter said they’d feel “not too comfortable.”

The UI survey included a series of statements it asked respondents to affirm or reject as “very believable.” Three-quarters agreed that “masks protect those made vulnerable through their work on campus;” 71 percent agreed that “wearing a mask is part of being a good Hawkeye;” and 62 percent agreed that students who don’t wear masks in public are “hurting others.”

Just over half agreed that face coverings are the “most effective way to prevent the spread,” and about a quarter believed that “if students don’t wear masks, campus will be closed in the fall.”

Only 8 percent found believable a statement that “four of five students wear masks when they leave home.”

Mask enforcement

In addition to distributing free face coverings to students who return to campus this fall, the university is mandating COVID-19 training that will cover responsibilities and precautions, including that students keep faces covered in public.

UI students will be asked to sign an acknowledgment. “We ask that you read the statement carefully and acknowledge your commitment to follow all of the outlined expectations,” according to a recent UI communication. “All students are expected to review and sign the acknowledgment before returning to campus.”

When asked about enforcement of its mask mandate, UI spokeswoman Hayley Bruce said, “The university will do all it can to ensure our campus community understands and follows the university’s health and safety guidelines.

“Our primary goal is to have voluntary compliance with this effort,” Bruce said. “However, if absolutely necessary, repeated failure to meet these procedures may be addressed through Human Resources and the Office of Student Accountability.”

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Iowa State University, too, has said its Dean of Students Office has developed a “set of community expectations, which provides guidance for handling issues of non-compliance.”

“Faculty and staff should contact their own supervisor when the situation involves another staff or faculty member,” according to a recent letter from ISU President Wendy Wintersteen. “Modeling appropriate behavior and creating positive reinforcement are the best methods to encourage compliance.”

The University of Northern Iowa has been more direct about its mask enforcement and the steps it will take ensure face coverings are universally used.

“While we anticipate the majority of our students will support these efforts, faculty can and should insist on compliance in any rare instances when a student does not have appropriate face covering,” according to a recent UNI campus communication.

Students with uncovered faces first should be asked to put one on.

“If they wish to comply but don’t have a mask, retail outlets around campus will have them for sale,” according to UNI. “Departments will be provided a small supply of disposable masks that they can give out at their discretion early in the semester.”

Should a student intentionally rebuff the mandate, “They should be asked to leave class” and referred to the Dean of Students.

“If a student refuses to leave or becomes argumentative in any way, the faculty member should feel comfortable ending class and then referring the student to the student conduct process,” according to UNI. “In these instances, interim actions may be utilized by the Dean of Students staff through the student conduct process to deny further access to class until the matter is resolved.”

Despite the strict policy and expectation, UNI officials note, “Wearing a mask is not required by law and the UNI Police will not respond to calls about mask compliance.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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