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Queen’s College and St Edmund Hall defy university on face coverings

UPDATE: As of 25th August, Oxford University has updated its health guidance to make face coverings voluntary from 6th September.

The Queen’s College and St Edmund Hall have updated their coronavirus rules in a way that appears to defy the policy set out by Oxford University, The Oxford Blue can reveal.

Queen’s last updated its coronavirus rules on 4th August. Amongst other changes, face coverings have been made optional at the college, with Queen’s encouraging its students to consider wearing face coverings “in shared indoor spaces, particularly when they are crowded and with people you do not normally meet.” 

St Edmund Hall made a similar change to its rules on 19th July, stating that “Face coverings will no longer be compulsory from Monday 19 July and will become a matter of personal choice.” They further suggest that students may wish to wear face coverings “in crowded/busy/enclosed spaces.”

These updates follow the move to Step 4 of the government’s roadmap for removing restrictions. Since 19th July, face coverings have no longer been legally required in public indoor areas or public transport, although the government “recommends and expects” the public to wear face coverings in “crowded and enclosed spaces.”

However, these changes appear to defy the University’s position on face coverings. On 13th July, Oxford University confirmed that “all staff and students working and studying on site should continue to follow all existing University health guidance.” This includes the University’s face coverings guidance which states that “Face coverings must be worn (except by those who are exempt) when entering University and college buildings and in all shared indoor spaces.” As this policy applies to all college buildings, the changes made by Queen’s and St Edmund Hall appear to contradict it, and the University policy makes no mention of colleges having the option of implementing different rules.

Government guidance for universities and other higher education institutions states that “Face coverings are no longer advised for students, staff and visitors either in teaching rooms or in communal areas.” Further to this, it is stated that “No student should be denied education on the grounds of whether they are, or are not, wearing a face covering.” 

On 13th July, the University referenced the fact that “rates of COVID-19 in Oxford [were] 70% above the national average” when confirming that existing University health guidance would remain in place. They added that this “will be kept constant review in coming weeks and will adapt as the local and national situation evolves.” In the week of 10th August – 16th August, Oxford had a case rate of 300 cases per 100,000 people, with the England average also running at 300 cases per 100,000 people.

At the time of publication, the University of Oxford, The Queen’s College, and St Edmund Hall had not responded to requests for comment.