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May 19 Weekly Interview With USU President Noelle Cockett

You're listening to Utah Public Radio. I'm Kerry Bringhurst and joining me is Utah State University President Noelle Cockett. And President Cockett, today Utah lawmakers are meeting in a special legislative session to discuss mask mandates for public education, including institutions of higher education. 

I know last week you sent out a letter to staff and employees, faculty at Utah State University, doing away with the requirement of masks on the USU campus to go into effect June 1. Things are changing daily and the passage of this bill, which has passed the house and is now in the senate at the time of this conversation, will, once again, change those guidelines.


NC: So once that is passed, because we have good indication it will be, then USU would need to step up the date on when masks are no longer required, and instead recommend it. We're waiting to see how House Bill 1007 ends up. And this would cover all individuals who are involved in institutional instruction, activities, events, etc. We interpret that to mean that it would cover, not only students would not be required to wear a mask, but employees, visitors, etc.


KB: Does that make your job easier, more difficult?


NC: We had planned to reserve the right to require masks and social distancing at some of our activities and events, particularly when visitors were coming on campus, people that we didn't really know how they were protecting themselves or others. Another type of activity was when social distancing of large numbers was not possible. So this does change, then, what we would do in those events and activities, if passed. We will always recommend that people wear masks in those situations. But in this case, if this sort of passed, we would not require it. 


Requiring is a two edged sword, anyway. And with many people saying, “and what are you going to do if someone doesn't adhere to the requirement?” Well, you know, speaking with them, encouraging them, explaining why, usually works. There will still always be people when you have a mandate that don't want to do it. 


I suppose it reinforces our redirection from university responsibility to reduce the risk of infection to individual responsibility to reduce the risk of infection. And there have been countries that have done, you know, really strict lockdowns and masks, etc. Remove those and suddenly have a very, very significant second wave. But what I don't understand or haven't been able to really interpret is what the role of vaccination has played in those resurges. So if the U.S. and Utah and our campuses have enough of our people vaccinated, maybe we can avoid that second spike. 


We still offer free testing. The numbers have dramatically dropped. So we're only doing maybe 20 tests a day. But the point is, there are still positive cases. So COVID is still out there. It hasn't disappeared. The numbers are very low, but it still is out there.


KB: President Cockett, unfortunately, we are out of time. We will continue to monitor what is happening with the mask mandate bill being heard by Utah lawmakers right now. It has passed the house and is on the Senate floor for debate. President Cockett, thanks again for your time. 

At 14-years-old, Kerry began working as a reporter for KVEL “The Hot One” in Vernal, Utah. Her radio news interests led her to Logan where she became news director for KBLQ while attending Utah State University. She graduated USU with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and spent the next few years working for Utah Public Radio. Leaving UPR in 1993 she spent the next 14 years as the full time mother of four boys before returning in 2007. Kerry and her husband Boyd reside in Nibley.