BYU-Idaho threatens to close campus if COVID-19 mandates are not followed by student body

File photo

REXBURG — Brigham Young University-Idaho is warning its student body that campus could close again if COVID-19 cases continue to rise, or if health district guidelines are not followed.

“BYU-Idaho is deeply concerned by the increase of active COVID-19 cases in our region and on campus,” administrators said in a mass email to the student body. “Students and employees are asked to carefully follow the required health restrictions established by Eastern Idaho Public Health.”

A reminder to read the five-paragraph email was also sent to students and faculty via text message on Friday afternoon.

At the moment, Madison County, where BYU-Idaho is located, has the second-highest number of active COVID-19 cases within Eastern Idaho Public Health’s eight-county region. As of Thursday evening, there are 143 active COVID-19 cases in Madison County and BYU-Idaho is reporting 43 students and 11 staff members have the virus. The numbers have been trending upwards over the past several weeks in Madison County.

Madison County is currently in the moderate risk or yellow level of EIPH’s COVID-19 Regional Response Plan. Under the regional plan, EIPH issued a mandatory mask order that requires all residents to wear face coverings in public places and limit social gatherings. These gatherings, both public and private, are limited to a maximum occupancy that provides for each person to have a 3-foot radius around them.

“If EIPH guidelines are not followed and the current trend continues, it may require a reclosure of campus, which would impact all of us in difficult and unfortunate ways,” the email reads. “This may include moving courses to only remote and online instruction, challenges in meeting housing contracts, strain on the local community, and the difficult emotional toll of continued separation and/or isolation.”

The university closed campus last spring semester due to COVID-19 and moved toward an online learning model. The campus has been gradually reopening since then.

It’s not clear what the impetus behind the email was, and BYU-Idaho officials declined to comment Friday afternoon.

But there is evidence that recently students have been holding events which blatantly contradict the public health mandates. Nearly a week ago, several videos were circulating on social media that showed a large rooftop party at a BYU-Idaho approved student housing complex.
Videos of the event show a large number of students gathered closely without masks, dancing and lounging in hot tubs.

A screenshot of a video circulating on social media showing a rooftop part at a student apartment complex on Saturday.

The school specifically addressed such events in the email.

“Adhering to EIPH guidelines is required at all times,” BYU-Idaho said in the email. “Masks must be worn in public and physical distancing must be maintained. Participating in large gatherings in parks, apartment complexes, dance parties, and other events where health and safety standards are not strictly observed is contrary to public health guidelines.”

Other universities have issued similar warnings. On Tuesday, Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University in the Provo/Orem, Utah area issued a letter to students concerned about a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases. The schools warned if behavior amongst students do not change, actions like closing campus would occur.

“If BYU-Idaho students refuse to comply with EIPH guidelines or take actions that put others at risk, campus privileges may be restricted,” BYU-Idaho’s said in the email. “This could include not being able to attend class on campus, work on campus, or receive in-person campus services. It could also result in suspension and/or dismissal from the university.”

Read the full email below:

Warning of Potential Campus Closure

BYU-Idaho is deeply concerned by the increase of active COVID-19 cases in our region and on campus. Students and employees are asked to carefully follow the required health restrictions established by Eastern Idaho Public Health (EIPH). We are committed to honoring civil authority. The university’s ability to keep campus open will be determined by EIPH thresholds, including active cases and hospital bed capacity.

If EIPH guidelines are not followed and the current trend continues, it may require a reclosure of campus, which would impact all of us in difficult and unfortunate ways. This may include moving courses to only remote and online instruction, challenges in meeting housing contracts, strain on the local community, and the difficult emotional toll of continued separation and/or isolation.

Adhering to EIPH guidelines is required at all times. Masks must be worn in public and physical distancing must be maintained. Participating in large gatherings in parks, apartment complexes, dance parties, and other events where health and safety standards are not strictly observed is contrary to public health guidelines.

If BYU-Idaho students refuse to comply with EIPH guidelines or take actions that put others at risk, campus privileges may be restricted. This could include not being able to attend class on campus, work on campus, or receive in-person campus services. It could also result in suspension and/or dismissal from the university.

BYU-Idaho is grateful for the students, university employees, ecclesiastical leaders, public health and city officials, businesses, and citizens who are committed to honoring the current order issued by EIPH. We expect our campus community to help in this important effort. By working together, we can all have hope in a healthy and productive future.