The University of Wisconsin announced Tuesday that all students, employees and visitors to campus must wear face masks when inside campus buildings effective August 5.

This includes workspaces with other students, common spaces in residence halls, campus transportation and cafeterias when not actively eating or drinking, according to a press release from UW.

The changes are in response to a rise in COVID-19 cases by almost 70% due to the Delta variant, a variant of COVID-19 that was first detected in India in 2020, according to the Washington Post.

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The statement assures students policies and plans regarding in-person classes, return to work on campus, events and physical spacing will not yet change.

Additionally, UW is urging students to get vaccinated and says it is the best protection against the virus. While UW and Public Health Madison & Dane County research shows people who are vaccinated can still contract and spread the Delta variant, having the vaccine helps protect against some of the most severe symptoms of COVID-19. 

In a news conference on Tuesday, Madison County Executive Joe Parisi warned unvaccinated Madison residents of the variant.

“We have reached a point where unvaccinated people have one of two choices — either get the vaccine or get COVID,” Parisi said. “That is how infectious and dangerous the Delta variant is.”

UW said having everyone on campus wear masks again, regardless of vaccination status, will help the community slow the spread of this new, more contagious, form of COVID-19.

In the news conference Tuesday, Mayor Satya Rhones-Conway praised Madison’s vaccination rates but said we could still do better.

“Based on survey data, we believe that nine in ten city employees are vaccinated,” Mayor Rhodes-Conway said. “But we can do better and we must do better because this disease is only getting more contagious.”

Though more than 80% of UW employees and about 80% of students have been vaccinated, the UW said they are concerned about the upcoming 2 months, when returning and international students will arrive on campus.

To help combat the spread of COVID-19, specifically the Delta variant, UW will offer free vaccines to all students at 333 East Campus Mall, according to the statement. Students can schedule their vaccination appointments through University Health Services or drop in Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

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The University will also continue to offer COVID-19 testing to employees and students and promises to closely monitor data regarding transmission rates, evaluate guidance from the CDC, collaborate with PHMDC, regularly consult with campus experts and keep students and their families updated.