With spring on the horizon, the United States is approaching a bitter milestone: the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic. A year later, many are still grappling with how to handle the response to a virus that has upended every part of daily life. Benedictine College is no exception.

The newest change in COVID-19 policy on campus was sent out to the student body via email on March 2. Masks are no longer required to be worn outside. Face coverings are still required in most buildings and when social distancing is not possible for more than 15 minutes.

Megan Domann, a COVID-19 nurse at the Atchison County Health Department, explained when masks should be worn.

“I would highly recommend a mask anywhere, if you can’t keep a social distance,” Domann said. “If you’re walking with somebody, even somebody from your living quarters, you should still have a mask on.”

In addition to this change for masks outdoors, there has also been a change for masks indoors as well.

Late last month, an email was sent out to all students announcing a change in the mask policy at the Murphy Recreation Center (Rec). The email read in part, “in the spirit of “normalcy”, individuals exercising at the Rec will no longer be required to wear a mask while engaging in strenuous activity.

Charlie Gartenmeyerdirector of athletics, was at the forefront of the decision to change the rule.

“While the individual is doing [that] particular exercise, they can take their mask off, but once they’re finished with it, have to put [the mask] on,” Gartenmayer said. “My observation of being down [at the Rec]  is that it’s been implemented pretty well on their part.”

This change comes on the heels of a stricter precedent, in which students could be removed from the Rec for repeatedly not wearing a mask. Zach White, sophomore, was the first student suspended from the Rec under this policy.

“I kinda did what the majority of students that went to the Rec Center did, we would have our mask on but have it under our nose or mouth or around the chin,” White said. “I personally felt like I was a little bit singled out, I was suspended when 80% of the other students were doing exactly what I was doing.”

According to White, he did not receive any verbal warning for his first “strike”, just an email. After he was notified of a second strike, he was suspended from using the Rec for two weeks.

After being informed of his suspension, White made an appointment with President Stephen Minnis to express his and other students’ frustration with the Rec policy.

After their meeting, Minnis brought these concerns presented by White to the cabinet meeting later that week and the rule was changed shortly after.

When asked if he believed he had a direct influence on the change, White had no hesitation.

“Oh yeah, 100%,” White said.

Adam Gardner, director of recreational services, declined to comment on the new mask policy in the Rec.

While some students are pleased with the new updates in mask policy around campus, others do not share this same sentiment.

Former Student Government Association Vice PresidentMary Claire Aranowski, senior, said she’s against the latest policy.

“I think it’s better to have the policy of wearing masks,” Aranowski said. “There are a lot of people who want to go to the Rec and still feel safe. Especially since things are getting better, it’s important to keep these procedures that have been working in place and have one or two people who aren’t following the policy than 10 people who are all not wearing masks.”

Maddie Juul, sophomore, is another who is concerned about her health.

“It definitely feels less safe now,” Juul said. “I just feel like people don’t care about my safety. I am immunocompromised and I chose to come back on campus because I thought that people would be considerate.”

If you have any questions or concerns regarding COVID-19 policies on campus, please contact Dr. Linda Henry at (913) 360-7520 or lhnery@benedictine.edu. If you have questions regarding health information and COVID-19, contact Laura O’Grady at (913) 360-7118 or logrady@benedictine.edu.