The mask mandate at UW-Platteville was suspended on March 12, 2022, one day before the two year anniversary of the campus shutdown, which occurred on March 13, 2020. The whole campus was closed at the end of that day.
In March 2020, as news of the pandemic spread rapidly, the idea only had four days to settle in the public’s eye before the campus shutdown was in effect. Faculty continued planning for in-person classes from when they were first informed on March 9 to when the campus shut down on March 13.
According to Dr. Phillip “Pip” Gordon, an associate professor of English and Gay Studies coordinator at UW-Platteville, “COVID-19 was in the news, but it felt like it was happening somewhere else and wouldn’t actually affect campus.”
On March 13, 2020, all students living on campus were advised to take all of their items with them when they returned home. UWP students were given a two-week spring break and then attended the remainder of their semester online rather than in-person.
In Dr. Gordon’s experience as a faculty member, they had students disappear from their class the day of the shutdown. Some of the students, who continued their classes for the semester, later recounted that they had “significant mental health struggles during that Spring,” said Dr. Gordon.
Currently, the end of the UW-System mask mandate comes on the heels of a decrease in COVID-19 community levels. A COVID-19 community level is a measurement of risk for each county based on “hospital beds being used, hospital admissions, and the total number of new COVID-19 cases in an area” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In mid-February, two counties in southeast Wisconsin and six counties in northern Wisconsin had a high community level, or communities with a higher risk measurement. In the middle of Wisconsin, six counties were at a medium community level. The rest of Wisconsin counties were at low community levels, including Grant Co., Iowa Co., Crawford Co. and Lafayette Co.
On Feb. 17, 2022, UWP faculty, staff and students received a COVID-19 update email about lifting the mask mandate. In the email, it stated that “responsible behavior is up to the individual choice to continue wearing a face covering.”
As of March 12, the first day of spring break, the UWP mask mandate was suspended. By the end of spring break, all of Wisconsin, except for two northern counties, were at a low community level. All of the surrounding states were almost completely rid of high community levels, other than Freeborn Co. in Minnesota. Illinois was entirely a low community level state and the majority of Michigan and Iowa were mostly made up of low community levels as well.
Due to the recent history of fluctuations in COVID-19 community levels, the email also stated, “We will monitor COVID-19 and will adjust policies as needed if circumstances change.”
“People may choose to (wear a) mask at any time. People with symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 should wear a mask. Masks are required on public transportation and may be required in other places by local or state authorities,” according to the CDC. Prevention steps regarding a community’s COVID-19 community level, which can be low, medium or high, are available at cdc.gov/coronavirus.
UW-Platteville students were asked to share their thoughts on wearing masks. Opinions steered toward a cultural adjustment of wearing masks as needed. The conditions under which a mask might be helpful are in the winter or when an individual has a contagious illness. Several anonymous students submitted the following comments to The Exponent.
“It feels like COVID couldn’t have already been around for two years, but at the same time, it feels like it’s been around forever.”
“It feels like I’ve always had to wear a mask … I feel self-conscious in public about my face if I don’t have it.”
“It’s going to be really weird … that we can all now just see what our faces look like.”
“I’m kind of glad to have them gone … I liked having them for the winter, but I’m ready.”
“I think even with it being lifted … if I get sick randomly … I’m going to keep wearing it, because I did like it for that. I do think we’re going to move towards mimicking what Japan does where you keep wearing them only when you’re sick.”
“On an NPR newscast, they were saying that it’s kind of like an umbrella, you know, just ‘cause it stops raining doesn’t mean you put the umbrella away forever. Like, it might rain again, which means the masks might come out again.”