Masks may become optional at UArizona next week

four female students wearing masks and walking on campus

Students walk on the University of Arizona campus at the start of the spring 2022 semester.

Chris Richards/University of Arizona

The University of Arizona is considering relaxing its face coverings requirement if COVID-19 transmission on campus remains in line with the medium level now recorded in Pima County.

Because the university's spring break was last week and many people were traveling, infection numbers on campus will be closely monitored this week before an official policy change is made, university President Robert C. Robbins said during a virtual briefing Monday.

If transmission rates remain in line with rest of the county, masks will become recommended but not required in indoor spaces on the Tucson campus beginning March 21.

"With the return from spring break, and many students, faculty and staff traveling over the past week, I believe that its prudent to see what level of infection is present among our university community before changing our protocol for the Tucson campus," Robbins said. "Following a week where the members of the campus community all have an opportunity to test, if we see new case counts aligned with the rest of Arizona and Pima County, we will be well-positioned to relax our mask protocols as suggested in the CDC guidance."

CDC guidance issued Feb. 25 suggests that the need for face coverings is reduced in areas with low or medium levels of community transmission. Those levels are based on the number of new cases, as well as hospital admissions and occupancy.

"We will continue to monitor public health conditions for locations throughout Arizona and elsewhere, and we will adjust protocols if we see an increase in testing positivity rates or if community levels return to high levels," Robbins said.

Robbins noted that some university locations outside Pima County have already relaxed masking requirements. For example, the Phoenix campus was able to lift its mask requirement March 7 because Maricopa County has had a lower level of transmission than Pima County for several weeks, he said. 

Any change to the university's face coverings policy will not impact mask requirements on university public transportation, and masks will continued to be required on the university's Cat Tran shuttles, Robbins said. Masks also will still be required in locations where patients or clinical research subjects are seen, or in areas where personal protective equipment has always been required.

The university will continue to offer free surgical masks at building entrances and in classrooms.

Robbins encouraged those returning from spring break travel to get tested for COVID-19. Students and employees can pick up saline gargle Cats TakeAway Tests from several locations on campus, and samples can be returned to campus for analysis. At-home antigen test kits are also widely available through the Pima County Health Department.    

The university's COVID-19 website and campus signage will be updated to reflect any changes to the face coverings policy in the coming days, Robbins said. 

"As these changes go into place, I want to again emphasize the vital importance of compassion for one another, especially for those who are most vulnerable to this still deadly virus," Robbins said. "To our students, faculty, and staff: Fellow members of our community might ask you to wear a mask when near them in a classroom, office or meeting space. I plead with you, I ask that you respect their needs and be mindful that others have varying levels of risk from COVID-19, not only their own risk but also risk for those who they may be caring for at their homes."