With the number of regional COVID-19 cases increasing and a greater risk of transmission due to the more infectious delta variant, the University of Michigan will require anyone in a campus building or on campus transit to wear a face covering, regardless of vaccination status.

The new policy takes effect Aug. 11 and applies across the entire university, including buildings on the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses and other university-occupied properties. Face coverings already are required inside Michigan Medicine facilities.

A key exception to the policy allows for vaccinated students living on campus to not wear a face covering while in their own residence hall, including common areas.

In an Aug. 9 message to the campus community, President Mark Schlissel pointed to a number of factors that led to the change, including the upward trend of COVID-19 cases and local and federal public health guidance that now recommends wearing face coverings indoors.

“I know that we’ve already become accustomed to not wearing a face covering if vaccinated, but we want everyone in our community to be as safe as possible, especially as the highly infectious delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 continues to spread,” Schlissel said. “’Breakthrough infections’ can occur in vaccinated persons, but while they rarely lead to serious consequences, they can spread to others.”

The decision to require face coverings aligns with the recommendation of the university’s Campus Health Response Committee, which continues to closely monitor the changing conditions of the pandemic and work in collaboration with the Washtenaw County Health Department.

The policy is separate from the requirement that students, faculty and staff on all three U-M campuses and Michigan Medicine are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and submit their vaccination information before the start of the fall term on Aug. 30.

“Widespread vaccination remains the primary and most effective tool that will bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control, and our vaccination requirement will ensure that all of U-M can have a vibrant and engaging academic year,” Schlissel said.

The new face-covering policy requires all students, staff, faculty and visitors to wear a face covering that covers the mouth and nose on U-M buses and in most indoor settings, including classrooms, libraries, offices and indoor sports venues.

The university policy cites limited exceptions in which a person is not required to wear a face covering indoors, including while alone in a single, enclosed, private office with the door closed, actively eating or drinking, swimming or receiving a service that requires them to temporarily take off their face covering.

Students are also not required to wear a face covering in their assigned residence hall or apartment. Those who are unvaccinated should continue to wear a face covering in shared areas of the residence. 

Those granted a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act also are not required to wear a face covering indoors.

The Washtenaw County Health Department issued an advisory Aug. 4 citing the increasing rate of COVID-19 transmission in the region and recommending face coverings for everyone in indoor, public spaces.

That followed guidance last month from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advising vaccinated people in areas of “substantial or high transmission,” to once again wear a face covering indoors in public.