Update (Feb. 16, 6:25 p.m.): Updated to include comments from Provost Nathan Urban.
Designated areas in Lehigh University libraries will become mask-optional beginning Thursday, Feb. 17.
An email was sent to the campus community on Feb. 16 from the COVID Response Team informing students of the update to the masking policy. The CRT made this change due to the declining positivity rates at Lehigh and in the local community.
Schools in the Bethlehem area are also discussing a mask-optional policy, and the Bethlehem Area School Board is slated to vote on a plan which will lift their current masking policy on Feb. 28.
Changes to the mask policy in libraries is limited to specific areas and does not extend to other campus buildings. Library and Technology Services has designated spaces in Linderman, Fairchild-Martindale Library and the Computing Center where masks will no longer be required.
In Linderman Library, mask-optional spaces include the rotunda, stacks and Lucy’s Cafe. In FML, the south wings of the fourth, fifth and sixth floors will be mask optional in addition to CITL Commons. The lower level study area of the Computing Center will also become mask-optional.
All other library spaces will still have a mask requirement in effect. These spaces include library entrances, elevators, hallways, restrooms and help desks. All LTS classroom and computer labs, including the Digital Media Studio, will still require masks during instruction times. The north side of the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh floors of FML will continue to have a mask requirement in effect. Masks will continue to be required in The Grind cafe except for while eating. In Linderman Library, masks will still be required in the Grand Reading Room on the first floor and Special Collections on the third floor.
Provost Nathan Urban said the university chose to have a mask optional policy in only some portions of the library in order to accommodate both students who want to continue wearing masks and those who don’t.
“On the one hand, we want to be able to provide spaces where if people have concerns or they want to be particularly safe they can be,” Urban said. “So having zones in the library where masks are required provides an option for people who have those concerns.”
The CRT has given LTS permission to make adjustments to which areas are mask-required and which are mask-optional. The most up-to-date information can be found on the LTS website.
“We in Library and Technology Services are dedicated to creating welcoming, supportive, inspiring spaces for the Lehigh community,” said Greg Reihman, vice provost for LTS. “We hope that, by offering options, we enable everyone in the campus community to find a place in the libraries where they are both comfortable and safe.”
The CRT said they understand that some people may wish to remain in a masked environment, while others feel increasingly comfortable in spaces where masking is optional. The CRT may roll back this policy if the positivity rate changes, or extend the policy to other areas of campus if cases remain low.
Urban said LTS, not the university, initially suggested the mask-optional policy in the libraries. LTS then created a proposal, which outlined how the policy would operate.
There will be signage around both libraries beginning on Feb. 17 alerting students and faculty to which spaces are mask optional and which spaces masks are still going to be required.
The CRT will communicate any further changes to the current mask policy by the week of Feb. 28.