Wayne State to require masks inside campus buildings

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Detroit — Wayne State University will require masks to be worn indoors in spite of recently-released guidelines from the federal government and state health department, President M. Roy Wilson announced Monday.

Wilson wrote in a letter to the campus community that he supports the new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which announced last week that people who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear a mask unless required by local laws or workplace requirements. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration lifted mask mandates for fully vaccinated residents as of Saturday.

"However, the practical limitation in the CDC guidelines is that we do not have the ability to differentiate those who have been vaccinated from those who have not," Wilson wrote. "This information is important, particularly if everyone is unmasked indoors. We need to operate in a manner that protects the safety of every member of our campus community. 

"Therefore, masks will still be required indoors on Wayne State’s campus."

Masks will not be required outdoors, Wilson added.

Spring classes are underway at WSU and summer classes begin June 30. It was not clear if the policy will be in place in the fall.

Relaxing the CDC guidelines on mask-wearing for fully vaccinated residents is a hopeful, and pivotal moment in the COVID-19 pandemic, Wilson said. 

"The key to a fully open and healthy campus is the degree to which our campus community is vaccinated," Wilson said. "If you have not yet been vaccinated, I urge you to do so as soon as possible."  

Wayne State's announcement follows an effort by faculty members at Wayne State and the University of Michigan to petition the administration to require everyone on campus to be fully vaccinated. The effort evolved into a statewide effort since state lawmakers attached language to proposed state appropriations for higher education that bans Michigan's 15 public universities from mandating the COVID-19 vaccine. 

"Retaining the mask mandate indoors is good, and better than what other universities are doing," said Fabrice Smieliauskas, a WSU assistant economics professor who started the petition. "That will avoid clusters of cases among unvaccinated people who choose to go unmasked, and even occasionally among vaxxed, as we've seen for breakthrough infections. That will keep more people safe and help the university continue its good record on COVID."

Smieliauskas said Wilson should not rule out a vaccine mandate in the future.

"It may become necessary," he said.

Wayne State's on-campus mandate also comes after the university offered a $10 incentive to students if they provide proof that they have been vaccinated by May 7. Of Wayne State's 27,000 enrolled students, 2,659 students participated, or about 10%. WSU spokesman Matt Lockwood said others likely have been vaccinated and did not take advantage of the incentive.

Wilson will host a town hall meeting at 3 p.m. on Tuesday to discuss fall plans.

He urged students to get the vaccine and said that the university Campus Health Center offers the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

Said Wilson: "I look forward to seeing you all on campus soon – unmasked."