The University of Michigan announced in an April 27 University-wide email that starting May 2, masks would no longer be required in indoor spaces, including classrooms and campus transportation. This updated policy is applicable to all three U-M campuses and includes campus visitors, regardless of vaccination status.
The Michigan Daily spoke to U-M students about their reactions and opinions regarding this change. Some students said the spring semester seemed like the appropriate time to lift classroom mask requirements, given declining cases for the majority of April and decreased student presence on campus, but said they would personally remain masked while in class.
Rising LSA sophomore Jenny Zhao said although she believes the updated mandate is reasonable, she will continue to wear a mask in the classroom out of health and safety concerns.
“When I first heard about it, it did make sense because there (are) less students on campus, and classes will be smaller,” Zhao said. “I’m probably going to (keep) wearing my mask in classrooms just for safety concerns because I don’t want to get sick during the spring semester.”
Rising LSA junior Aricka Croxton said that while the timing of the new policy made sense, she believes a gradual change would have been a better approach.
“I think it’s around the time it should happen, but I didn’t expect it to be so abrupt,” Croxton said. “I think the school should have just leaned into it more slowly.”
Croxton said the changes in the mask mandate did not affect her experiences while communicating with instructors and classmates in the classroom.
“It’s kind of still the same,” Croxton said. “I still interact with people the way I did before, and I don’t think the masks changed anything.”
Rackham student Xiaosheng Guo is a Graduate Student Instructor for the spring semester. Guo said she believes the new mask mandate will not impact safety in lecture halls because the bigger classroom size allows students to maintain social distancing.
“I have taught for two semesters that students have masks for the whole class,” said Guo. “I think for rooms that (are) large enough, and the students can sit separately… then it is okay that students don’t wear masks because in this way, you can still keep your social distance, and you don’t need to be that careful about getting (COVID-19) or other diseases.”
However, Guo said she felt the University should adjust its policy for classes where students have to sit in closer proximity to each other.
“In discussions, we prefer students to work in groups and discuss with each other,” Guo said. “In that case, it’s hard to keep the social distance in the classroom. The University should think about more ways to actually prevent (COVID-19) from spreading.”
Rising LSA sophomore Abhi Shuko said while he does not personally have an issue with the new mask policy, he believes it is important to maintain mask requirements in spaces students cannot avoid, such as classrooms and transportation.
“Maybe I’d prefer to keep them in the classroom or areas where students have to be,” Shuko said. “In areas where you’re supposed to be for classes, you would want students to always have masks because if someone doesn’t feel safe without masks, it’d be kind of an issue.”
Wearing a mask remains a requirement in patient care areas such as Michigan Medicine, University Health Service and the Dental School clinical area. Those who have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to the virus are also required to wear a mask while around other individuals during the first 10 days of their isolation or self-monitoring period.
According to the University, the new mask policy aligns with the COVID-19 community level guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). During the two weeks prior to the announcement of the updated mask mandate, COVID-19 cases on campus were declining, but they appear to be rising again in recent weeks. The University’s May 13 update to the Campus Blueprint COVID-19 dashboard said the COVID-19 community level for Washtenaw County is now “high,” according to the CDC. While the University’s policy regarding mask requirements in indoor spaces remains unchanged, the University encourages community members to take preventative measures such as getting vaccinated, receiving boosters if eligible and staying home if sick.
Students also expressed concerns regarding how the updated mask mandate will affect the campus community in August when students return to campus for the fall semester. Croxton said she believes it would be beneficial for the safety of community members if masks become required again in classrooms during the first few weeks of the fall semester.
“I think (mask requirements in classrooms) would be the smart thing to do, at least for the first month or so, just in case somebody does come back with (COVID-19),” Croxton said.
The University has not yet announced its intended mask policy for the fall semester.
Daily Staff Reporter Tina Yu can be reached at email@example.com