Some professors requiring KN95 masks for in-person classes, students concerned about access

As COVID-19 cases on campus rise, some Duke faculty are requiring students to wear N95 or KN95 face masks — as opposed to cloth or disposable surgical masks — in order to attend in-person classes.

One of those professors is biology lecturer Alison Hill, who needs N95 or KN95 masks in the 201L biology lab.

Hill explained in an email to The Chronicle that the lab is at full capacity with 16 students, down from 12 students in the previous two semesters, because the University was “not anticipating the current rate of COVID infection -19”. This full registration makes physical distancing in the lab impossible.

This situation concerned Hill, as she worried about the virus spreading not only to students but also to people who set up labs and teach there, some of whom have families with young children or older adults.

“Wearing a high-quality mask in our labs is the best tool available to prevent transmission in the absence of physical distancing,” Hill wrote in his email. “The rationale for wearing the best masks available is the same as the rationale for requiring vaccinations; we are trying to do everything we can to protect the health of undergraduate students, graduate teaching assistants, staff, and faculty while continuing to provide an in-person lab experience for our students.

Sherryl Broverman, professor of practical biology, also requires this type of mask for in-person learning.

“Everyone should wear a good mask. You should have an N95, KN95, Kf94. Please no cloth mask,” Broverman wrote in an email to the class.

With this new mandate, some students have concerns about access to these masks given the short notice from the University.

There were two polls regarding this issue in the Class of 2024 GroupMe chat on January 19. According to the survey results, not all students have actually received their masks, and some students are completely against the mandate.

The poll “Do you think teachers should be allowed to require N95 masks in class?” received 207 total votes; 54 said yes, while 153 said no. The survey “Did you receive your N95 mask from your RA?” received 210 total votes; 169 said yes, while 41 said no.

Housing and Residence Life announced a plan to distribute KN95 masks to students on campus on January 13, initially planning for students to pick them up at Keohane Atrium before deciding to distribute them through resident assistants and coordinators of residence.

Student Affairs announcement Tuesday afternoon that students who live off-campus could pick up KN95 masks at the Washington Duke Inn and Bryan Center Landing testing sites through Jan. 28 or while supplies last.

Sophomore Lindsey Weyent wrote in an email to The Chronicle that students aren’t opposed to wearing KN95s because they’re admittedly better masks, especially with the Omicron variant, but Duke should provide more.

“The information we needed to wear KN95s came after me and most other people arrived on campus, and with little time to order these masks, and with everyone across the country also rushing to buy them (and the worry that the ones I buy will be counterfeit), it is very difficult for me to get this mask I now need to go to class,” Weyent wrote.

“Duke should provide more than one mask, or the class itself should provide more, if they want us to wear them long term. Or, they should have let us know much sooner that we would need those masks. »

A Thursday email from Student Affairs says there is “no way to determine the maximum possible number of safe reuses for a KN95 mask that can be applied in all cases.”

An email sent Thursday to undergraduates by Duke Student Government noted that DSG is “connecting with administration to ensure additional masks are secured [as soon as possible].”


Madeleine Berger

Madeleine Berger is a sophomore at Trinity and the editor of college news for the 117th volume of The Chronicle.

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