Starting March 14, the University of Michigan will no longer require masks in most indoor spaces on campus including offices, residence halls and at athletic events, Robert Ernst, associate vice president of student life, and Preeti Malani, U-M Chief Health Officer, announced in an email to the U-M community Wednesday. Masks are still required in all classrooms, patient care areas, campus buses and COVID-19 testing sites for at least the remainder of the Winter 2022 semester.
“Mask use still is suggested as an effective strategy for enhanced personal protection, especially for those with compromised immune status, those who are not vaccinated or up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations, and anyone with a perceived increased risk of complications from infection,” the email reads.
In the email, Ernst and Malani wrote the decision was made due to high vaccination rates on campus and declining COVID-19 cases in the region. In the week ending Feb. 26 the University reported 53 preliminary positive cases – down from a high of 1,927 during the height of the omicron surge in January.
“As a result of the high vaccination rates among students, faculty and staff as well as improving conditions in the region, the COVID-19 Campus Health Response Committee is issuing new guidance regarding COVID-19 response on the University of Michigan campuses,” the email reads.
All U-M faculty, staff and students as well as Michigan Medicine staff are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and to have received a COVID-19 booster shot six months after their final dose. As of Wednesday, 84% of eligible students, 88% of eligible faculty and 83% of eligible staff have reported receiving a booster shot.
Ernst also wrote that the U-M COVID-19 Vaccination Policy remains in effect for the community. However, individuals attending indoor athletic events are no longer required to show proof of vaccination or a negative test, a policy that was put in place for the Winter 2022 semester. Additionally, individuals are expected to continue using ResponsiBLUE and ResponsiBLUE Guest as a daily symptom checker when attending indoor athletic events.
The move comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their COVID-19 transmission metrics to be based on hospitalizations, hospital capacity and death rates in a given community on Feb. 25. Under the new guidelines, Washtenaw County currently has “medium” transmission where mask-wearing is not mandatory.
Wednesday’s announcement follows other Big 10 Universities who have also announced plans to phase out their indoor mask mandates, such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Michigan State University. Washtenaw County also recently decided to no longer require face-coverings for K-12 schools, though some districts — including Ann Arbor Public Schools — have decided to keep the mask mandate.
University transportation, including campus buses, is covered by the Transportation Security Administration’s mask mandate, which remains in effect until March 18. In an email obtained by The Michigan Daily, Bill McAllister, general manager for transportation and waste management at the University, said he expects the University will reevaluate its mandate if the TSA order is allowed to expire.
“The mandate has been extended three previous times, so there is still some uncertainty about if it will expire or be extended again,” McAllister wrote. “If it does expire, I expect that the University will then determine if this requirement will stay in place.”
Regardless of vaccination status, all students, faculty, staff and visitors on the three U-M campuses are required to follow the policy, according to the announcement. Some U-M units may implement local-level policies that supersede this policy and applicable communities must follow them.
Ernst and Malani wrote in the email that while masking will become optional, many members of the community will continue to use the practice to protect themselves against COVID-19 and for other personal reasons.
“Please recognize and respect that some in the community will choose to continue to mask and should be empowered to do so,” the email reads. “Please be kind and respectful of these personal choices.”