University of Wisconsin System officials say they plan to end their campus mask mandates by spring break.
UW System interim President Tommy Thompson announced Wednesday that widespread vaccinations and waning case numbers on system campuses and across the state justify the move.
"Wisconsin has one of the fastest rates of coronavirus decline in the country," Thompson said in a press release. "While we will continue to take prudent prevention measures when warranted, restrictions can be lifted as case counts drop."
As of Tuesday, the seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases was 1,828, down significantly from its peak of 18,816 on Jan. 19, according to the state Department of Health Services.
Vaccines and testing will still be available on UW System campuses and schools will continue to monitor COVID-19 and adjust policies as needed, the release said.
Thompson pointed to an emerging scientific consensus that COVID-19 will likely be recurrent with some degree of ongoing transmission for years to come — leading to a rise in overall immunity and a decreased risk of severe disease for those infected.
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Thompson applauded students and staff for their work in slowing the spread of COVID-19 over the last three years.
"We have worked relentlessly to instill in (students) the need to protect themselves and those around them," he wrote, adding that he'd like to return some normalcy to students. "Students should be able to cheer on sports teams, attend concerts and performances, and go to classes without masks when the conditions are right."
Thompson said UW System faculty and staff have been leaders in keeping students safe while also delivering quality education, and that that will continue regardless of the mask mandates expiring.
UW System officials say they plan to withdraw mandates as soon as March 1 and will be finished ending them no later than spring break.
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