MILWAUKEE — A big change is coming to 13 universities across 26 campuses as the University of Wisconsin System moves to remove its mask mandate.
The University of Wisconsin System said President Tommy Thompson is working with university chancellors to begin removing the requirements. Their goal is to have all mask mandates removed by March 1, or no later than spring break.
Thompson said widespread vaccination on campuses and the "rapidly decreasing prevalence of COVID-19" presents favorable conditions for the removal of mask requirements.
“Wisconsin has one of the fastest rates of coronavirus decline in the country,” Thompson said. “While we will continue to take prudent prevention measures when warranted, restrictions can be lifted as case counts drop. Further, vaccinations and boosters are readily available to combat the virus that is much less severe for people who take this individual responsibility to protect themselves and others.”
Vaccines and tests will still be available on campus, and people can still opt to wear masks if they so choose.
“Our students have been terrific for the last two years in demonstrating a culture of responsibility,” Thompson said. “We have worked relentlessly to instill in them the need to protect themselves and those around them. Students should be able to cheer on sports teams, attend concerts and performances, and go to classes without masks when the conditions are right.
Milwaukee currently has its own mask mandate. University of Wisconsin Milwaukee (UWM) officials say it will work with local health officials about when it will be appropriate to lift it.
After more than two years of wearing a mask on campus at UWM, students were surprised to hear they may not be required to wear them much longer.
"I didn't know it was going to come this early. I thought it was going to take a lot longer," UWM student Blake West said.
"It's one step to getting back to normal," UWM student Ivan Garcia said.
Garcia looks forward to not wearing a mask anymore. He said it's impacted him in the classroom.
"Students are always asking the professor to repeat the question and the professor has to do this and repeat himself," Garcia said.
While some students are excited for the change, student Michelle Schaeffer is a bit wary.
"I would like to not have them, but maybe for the rest of the school year we should keep them," Schaeffer said.
She believes the mask mandate on campus allowed students to return in-person rather than remain virtual. Beyond that, she's worried for her family's safety.
"I definitely don't want to get it and spread it to my family," Schaeffer said. "I have a dad who is older who I'd be concerned about."
The one thing all students can agree on is that it's been long road.
UW said vaccines and tests will remain available on campus, and that it will adjust policies as needed if COVID circumstances change.
At Marquette University, the University's COVID-19 Response Team continues to evaluate local community transmission as they determine COVID-19 mitigation efforts moving forward.