Visitors to campus buildings seemed to get the message near the end of September — masks are mandatory.

Nearly 95 per cent of people are following Western's guidelines and wearing masks indoors, according to data collected by the Gazette.

But the high compliance rate shows a pattern: the more people wear masks indoors on campus, fewer wear masks outdoors. 

The second week of classes, when Western's student coronavirus cases skyrocketed, saw the highest rate of mask-wearing indoors at exactly 95 per cent, but also the lowest rate outdoors with only 38 per cent of campus visitors masked.

The Gazette has tracked mask wearing at campus’ busiest indoor and outdoor locations since the start of fall classes — recording thousands of visitors to campus over a four hour period each week.

All four weeks of the Gazette’s survey saw over 40 per cent of visitors not wearing masks in outdoor areas. 

Western’s policy since the summer says face coverings must be worn “indoors, in the presence of others and in common and shared spaces." The campus has no policy against being unmasked outdoors.

The Gazette took indoor counts at the University Community Centre atrium, the main floor of the Social Science Building and the inside the Natural Science Centre — locations chosen based on a Board of Governors report from August which showed projected campus foot traffic data and which buildings have the highest capacity under new social distancing guidelines.

The majority of campus visitors were on board with masks indoors from the get-go with 84 per cent of people indoors wearing their masks in the first week of classes. A number of people in the University Community Centre atrium dragged down this figure — as the university had not yet clarified rules for eating indoors and many took their masks off to eat. 

Mask wearing increased by almost 25 per cent in the UCC atrium by week two, as the ban on eating in most indoor areas was clarified and many dining areas were taped off to enforce the pandemic regulations.

The Natural Science Centre and Social Science Building saw an uptick in mask wearing as well, as the community was warned to be hyper-vigilant after Western students were the centre of community outbreaks and the university’s student case count jumped from five to 39 in less than a week.

The Alumni Hall bus stop, the bottom of University College Hill and the back of the Spencer Engineering building were surveyed as outdoor locations for the Gazette's survey. While the number of mask-wearers outside never topped 50 per cent, distancing was easier to maintain outdoors and Western has also encouraged students and staff to eat their meals outside.

The only area to see almost no fluctuation in mask wearing rates over the course of the month was University College Hill, possibly since students commuting to campus and passing the hill often come from the  north-side and don’t need to take a city bus, where masks are mandatory, unlike visitors near Alumni Hall. The hill is also a popular outdoor eating area.

Even with outdoor eating, commuting by foot and social distancing, Western’s rate of unmasked visitors to campus never rose above 60 per cent and in recent weeks have levelled out to just below 50 per cent.

Those wearing masks that covered their nose and chin, in line with provincial regulations, were recorded as masked, while those without a mask on their face were marked as unmasked and those wearing a mask ineffectively — on their chin, hanging off one ear or with their nose sticking out — were recorded as wearing a mask improperly. 

Unlike the percentages of visitors wearing masks and not wearing masks, the number of people wearing their masks improperly did not vary much between indoor and outdoor locations or with the university’s student case count. Over the month only 6 per cent of visitors wore their masks improperly on average.

The rates of mask compliance were also affected by the foot traffic of the area. Alumni Hall saw 1,400 visitors in the four hour period observation period during the first week — the Natural Science Centre saw only 133 in the same time frame. 

In the last week of observation, only 65 people visited the Natural Science Centre, the lowest foot traffic of any area recorded by the Gazette. While the building only saw one non-mask wearer, the low foot traffic meant that person counted for two per cent of the total — compared to the 14 non-mask wearers in the UCC atrium over the same time period who made up only three per cent of their area’s total. 

Aside from two instances in the Natural Science Centre in the second and fourth weeks of classes, all areas surveyed had a minimum foot traffic of 100 visitors. 

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Hope Mahood is the Coordinating Editor of news and opinions for volume 114. Email her at opinions@westerngazette.ca or find her on Twitter @hopemahood

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