SLCC is holding its graduation ceremony inside, and it can’t enforce COVID precautions

Commencement is scheduled for Friday at 10 a.m. in the Maverik Center.

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Salt Lake Community College graduates take a moment to congratulate their neighbors as directed by a speaker during commencement ceremonies at the Maverik Center on Friday, May 5, 2017.

With the number of COVID-19 cases surging and the death toll on the rise, Salt Lake Community College will hold its graduation ceremony on Friday without enforcing any coronavirus precautions.

Face masks and social distancing will not be required, but the commencement will be “mask-friendly,” according to SLCC. “We can’t require masking on our campuses or at our event,” said SLCC spokeswoman Erika Shubin, because of the Utah Legislature has prohibited schools and universities from doing so.

But unlike other colleges and universities in Utah, SLCC will hold an indoor commencement ceremony. About 640 graduates and several thousand audience members are expected at the 12,000-capacity arena in West Valley City.

The processional is scheduled for 9:30 a.m., and the commencement ceremony begins at 10 a.m.

“We are strongly encouraging everyone to wear masks,” Shubin said. “We have sent two text messages to our grads, asking them, their friends and their families to protect the health of our greater community by wearing masks while at commencement.”

Masks will be available at the entrances to the Maverik Center.

The latest advisory from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls for everyone — even those who have been fully vaccinated — to wear a mask indoors in areas of substantial or high transmission of the virus. And Salt Lake County is currently a high transmission area.

An anonymous email sent to SLCC faculty and staff — under the subject line “Commencement kills” — recounted current COVID statistics and concluded, “This could have been outdoors. This could have been distanced. This could have been done more responsibly. Our healthcare workers cannot handle another super spreader. I’m staying home.”

Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious disease physician at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, encouraged Utahns to avoid “large gatherings” and to “wear a mask indoors, especially in places where you can’t socially distance, around people that you don’t know their vaccine status. Essentially, everybody should be wearing a mask indoors because this delta variant is just so transmissible. And because if somebody who is vaccinated gets infected with the delta variant, they can transmit the infection just as well as an unvaccinated person.”

SLCC originally planned to hold its graduation in May, but postponed the ceremonies until Friday so that more people would have the opportunity to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Ironically, as the delta variant spreads, the number of new cases in Utah is now three times what it was in late April and early May when other colleges and universities were holding commencements, according to the Utah Department of Health.

This past spring, Brigham Young University held virtual graduation ceremonies. The University of Utah held a virtual commencement and outdoor convocations, where it enforced masks and social distancing. Utah State’s commencement was virtual, and it held indoor convocations with face mask and social distancing mandates.

Utah Valley University held drive-thru commencement and convocation ceremonies. Southern Utah University split its commencement in two and held outdoor convocations, enforcing face masks and social distancing. Westminster College’s graduation ceremonies were outdoors and it, too, mandated face masks and social distancing.

In addition to making face masks voluntary, SLCC will not enforce social distancing in the Maverik Center, “but people are encouraged to do so where possible,” Shubin said. And it will be left up to the graduates whether they shake hands as they are presented with their diplomas.

“All graduates have been told that handshaking is a personal decision they can make as they receive their diplomas on stage,” Shubin said. “Hand sanitizer will be available throughout the Maverik Center, including on the concourse.”

The SLCC graduation will be live streamed, “and we encourage high-risk individuals and the unvaccinated to take advantage of this option,” she added.