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MSU to drop mask mandate in May, but will keep COVID vax rule next year

college student
Michigan State University students like Bridgette Bauer won’t be required to wear face masks in classrooms beginning May 16. (Bridge photo by Dale Young)

Michigan State University is dropping its face mask requirement for most indoor campus spaces next month, according to a letter to students, staff and faculty Friday from MSU President Samuel Stanley.

But those who work at or attend the East Lansing campus will still be required to have COVID vaccinations and a booster for the full 2022-23 school year, or have an approved exemption.

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Last week, the University of Michigan announced it will continue to require students, staff and faculty to be up to date on COVID vaccinations through at least the fall 2022 semester. The university expects to announce a decision on whether face masks will continue to be required before the school’s spring term begins May 3.

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At MSU, both the Early Detection Program of saliva testing for those with medical or religious exemptions and PCR testing provided at the MSU Clinical Center will end May 13. Those with medical or religious exemptions no longer will be required to routinely test.

“We continue to see a sustained drop in COVID‑19 cases on campus, and with the wide availability of PCR, antigen and home testing in the community, the EDP and Clinical Center testing that were crucial to our success earlier in the pandemic can safely be discontinued now,” Stanley wrote.

At MSU, about 94 percent of students, staff and faculty are vaccinated, and 86 percent have had a booster shot. That compares to a vaccination rate of 65 percent for the state as a whole. At U-M, 98 percent of students are vaccinated and 91 percent have had a booster shot.

Confirmed COVID cases have plummeted in Michigan since December, though they increased again this week. As of Wednesday, the rate of cases was 11 per 100,000 residents, compared to a high of 170 in mid-January.

College campuses, including MSU and U-M, were hot spots for COVID outbreaks in the fall of 2020, leading to public health emergencies and campus-wide quarantines of tens of thousands of students. Michigan State University closed most of its dorm rooms for fall 2020 and virtually all classes at many colleges and universities were held online.

This past fall, however, outbreaks dropped precipitously at college campuses, and the schools were often safer from COVID than their surrounding communities. University officials attributed the decline in COVID-19 to the broad availability of vaccines. 

The announcement by the state’s two largest universities mirrors similar moves by the state’s public K-12 schools. When school began in September, almost two-thirds of K-12 students were enrolled in schools that required facial coverings. The vast majority of those mandates have been lifted. One notable exception: face masks are still required in Ann Arbor Public Schools, one of the state’s largest school districts.

“it is clear our COVID‑19 mitigation efforts were successful in allowing MSU to continue most in-person classes and activities safely,” Stanley wrote. “As we have since early 2020, we will continue to monitor and respond to the pandemic as necessary.“

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