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UW-Madison imposes new mask mandate

The move comes just hours after lawmakers claimed UW System must get approval from them
Published: Aug. 3, 2021 at 3:56 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 3, 2021 at 7:17 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Starting Thursday, everyone, regardless of whether or not they are vaccinated, who enters a University of Wisconsin-Madison building must wear a face covering.

The university announced the new mask mandate Tuesday, just hours after a Wisconsin legislative committee claimed the right to block any UW System COVID-19 protocol. Under the new rules, all students, employees, and visitors need to wear masks when inside campus buildings, with a few exceptions. (listed below)

“It kind of signals that COVID’s back.” Whitney Walczyk, who graduated from UW-Madison last semester, said. “It kind of felt like this summer it took a break and we didn’t have to worry about it, but now it shows that everybody needs to be careful again and nobody’s really safe from it.”

University officials blamed the reinstated mandate on the rise of the Delta variant and the subsequent skyrocketing number of new COVID-19 cases across the country and in Wisconsin. The state’s Dept. of Health Services recorded the highest number of cases in a single day since February, which was also the last time the seven-day rolling average was this high.

“We are particularly concerned about the next two months, when many of our students will arrive on campus from across the U.S. and around the world,” the university explained in a letter to students, faculty, and staff. “We want to continue to keep infection rates as low as possible in our community.”

Earlier in the day, the Wisconsin legislature’s Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules determined it had final oversight over any COVID-19 action by the universities by declaring it a rule making procedure. According to Nass, UW System must come up with an emergency rule for COVID-19 policies within 30 days or cease issuing them for students and campus visitors.

UW System spokesperson Mark Pitsch described the vote as “feel(ing) like a political statement.” Last week, UW System President, and former Republican governor, Tommy Thompson blasted the legislature’s attempt to claim oversight, pointing to the success the universities have had addressing the pandemic and his own experience as Health and Human Services Director during the George W. Bush Administration.

OTHER UW PROTOCOLS

The spiking case rate and the need for a mask requirement is not stopping UW-Madison’s plans to return to the classroom this fall. Plans for on-campus events and bringing employees back to campus will move forward as well, the letter continued.

University officials acknowledged those who are vaccinated stand a lower chance of suffering from the worst outcomes of COVID-19, and reiterated its initiatives to vaccinate students, faculty, and staff. But, they went on to point out that they can still be carriers, spreading the virus through the UW and Dane Co. community.

UW-Madison is offering free vaccinations to all students and employees between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., at 333 East Campus Mall, via appointments or on a walk-in basis. They ask anyone who has been vaccinated, or intends to, to let University Health Services know, to help with the implantation of health policies.

The university has not imposed a vaccine requirement.

Drop-in testing will end Friday on campus, but COVID-19 testing will still be available by appointment using the MyUHS app or the MyUHS web portal.

EXCEPTIONS

  • Residence halls: Masks may be removed inside your own room when only you and roommates are present but should be worn in all common spaces
  • Work spaces: Masks may be removed if you are working alone inside an office or lab with the door closed
  • Meals: Masks may be removed while actively eating and drinking but should be promptly put back on when finished
  • Outdoor spaces: Masks are not required, but may be worn if you wish, on the Terrace and other outdoor spaces adjacent to buildings
  • Vehicles: Masks should continue to be worn on Madison Metro buses and should be worn in campus vehicles when two or more people are present

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