On May 7, University President Mark Schlissel announced individuals are no longer required to wear facial coverings while outdoors at any of the three U-M campuses, so long as they are in groups of less than 100. The University of Michigan’s new face covering policy relaxes the previous policy, which had mandated since July 2020 that all members of the campus community and visitors wear a mask anywhere on campus.
“Please feel free to continue to wear masks if it makes you more comfortable, but outdoors it will only be required in groups of 100 or more to keep (the University) consistent with both state and CDC guidance,” Schlissel said.
The change to the University’s policy comes just a day after the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) put a new mask order into effect, stipulating that outdoor gatherings with fewer than 100 people—excluding most contact sports practices and competitions—are considered an “exception” to state face mask requirements. Prior to the state’s new order, on April 27, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expanded the list of outdoor activities the CDC deems safe for those who are fully vaccinated to participate in without COVID-19 prevention measures.
Emily Guo, recent Public Health graduate and former co-president of CURIS Public Health Advocacy at the University, said that while she was slightly concerned about the idea of large groups being able to congregate unmasked outside, she thought the combination of vaccines and the warming weather made now an optimal time to relax the mandate.
“(If) there’s 99 people all gathered together (unmasked), not social distancing at all…. (that) is kind of concerning,” Guo said “But I feel like most people have gotten vaccinated… Ann Arbor has a very high vaccination rate compared to other parts of Michigan.”
Guo said she would be comfortable socializing unmasked with her close friends outside but has some reservations about interacting unmasked with people beyond that group.
As of Friday, Washtenaw County has one of the highest vaccination rates in the state of Michigan, with over 60% of eligible residents having received at least one dose of an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine.
The University also announced on Friday that unvaccinated members of the campus community will now only have to quarantine for 10 days following a close-contact exposure, a change from 14 days. Fully vaccinated individuals will not have to quarantine at all if they remain symptom free. The University’s new quarantine policy is in alignment with that of the Washtenaw County Health Department which recently reduced its required 14-day quarantine period to 10 days if no COVID-19 symptoms are detected.
The University’s May 7 order recommends members of the campus community get vaccinated, citing rising vaccination rates as an important consideration in relaxing the use of facial coverings on campus.
“As our community vaccination rates increase, we expect masking rules to adjust as well,” the order reads. “We continue to encourage everyone to get vaccinated.”
In an email to The Michigan Daily, U-M spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen wrote that it is still too early to determine if these relaxed COVID-19 regulations will continue into the Fall 2021 semester as the University continues to monitor the pandemic.
On Monday, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced that the State of Michigan had reached the first milestone in the “Vacc to Normal” plan. Whitmer said that 55% of the eligible population has received the first dose of an FDA approved COVID-19 vaccine, which means that employers can resume in-person work on May 24, per the plan. Additionally, under this plan, the Gatherings and Face Masks order would no longer be enforced two weeks after 70% of the eligible population received their first dose. The plan is subject to change based on hospital admissions rates and the presence of vaccine-resistant variants.
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