The University of Wisconsin announced in an email that its mask mandate will expire March 12, the day spring recess begins.
The decision comes hours after UW System President Tommy Thompson announced that he will be working with university chancellors to withdraw their mask requirements between March 1 and the start of spring break.
It also follows Dane County’s Feb. 14 announcement to end its mask mandate March 1.
UW cited high levels of vaccination as well as declining COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in their decision.
As of Feb. 15, Dane County has seen a 38% decrease in COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks, according to PHMDC. The data also show there has been a 22% decline in hospitalizations over the last two weeks and 68% of Dane County residents so far have received a booster shot.
PHMDC said Dane County had higher numbers of cases than the rest of Wisconsin through the recent Omicron surge, but the county also had a lower death rate from testing positive for the Omicron variant, with the rate of death from the virus being 2.5 times lower than the overall state.
Research also strongly suggests if an individual is vaccinated, boosted and wearing a high-quality mask, they have a high level of protection against COVID-19 — regardless of what others do, UW said. This means that individuals can choose how they wish to protect themselves, UW said.
UHS will host two online discussions about the end of mask mandates in late February and early March, UW said.
In a press release, Associated Students of Madison (ASM) said were against UW’s decision to end the mask mandate.
“Earlier this week, all four student shared governance representatives on the COVID-19 Student Advisory Board voted to keep our campus mask mandate in place until the end of the spring semester,” ASM said. “Additionally, past statements from ASM, the Teaching Assistants Association (TAA) and the UW BIPOC Coalition all called for the university to strengthen COVID-19 safety protocols. Dropping common-sense policies like the mask mandate does the exact opposite.”
UW should follow CDC guidelines and keep the mask mandate as long as Dane County still has a “high” COVID-19 transmission rate, ASM said. The CDC is expected to adjust its mask guidelines as soon as next week, NBC reports.
After UW’s mask mandate ends, masks will still be required on city buses by federal order, UW said. Additionally, healthcare, childcare and food preparation settings may still require masks, UW said.
In a UW System press release, Thompson said the restrictions can be removed due to the declining number of new cases and the “readily available” ways to handle the virus at this point, such as vaccines and booster shots.
“Our students have been terrific for the last two years in demonstrating a culture of responsibility,” Thompson said. “Students should be able to cheer on sports teams, attend concerts and performances and go to classes without masks when the conditions are right.”