A summer update on COVID-19 rules and protocols at the University of Minnesota

The University has lifted many of its COVID restrictions.

A cloth mask and bouquet of flowers are seen on the Goldy statue outside Coffman Memorial Union on April 1, 2020.

Parker Johnson

A cloth mask and bouquet of flowers are seen on the Goldy statue outside Coffman Memorial Union on April 1, 2020.

James Schaak

The University of Minnesota has removed mask requirements and capacity limits for fully vaccinated individuals on campus as Hennepin County reports a 77% vaccination rate among those aged 16 or older and its lowest COVID case rate in over a year.

A May 14 announcement from University President Joan Gabel lifted the campus mask mandate whereas venue capacity limits were lifted on May 28 by Governor Tim Walz.

University departments that are still hesitant to loosen restrictions may pursue the restriction exception process, a submission-based review in which the department must provide evidence to University Health and Safety personnel that their COVID restrictions are still necessary.

However, departments seeking exceptions are somewhat rare, according to Katharine Bonneson, the assistant vice president of University Health and Safety.

“Generally, we have received very few exception requests related to the lifting of COVID-related restrictions,” Bonneson said. “The total number of requests to date is fewer than ten.”

Spaces that have qualified as an exception include medical facilities, like Boynton Health. Yet even in buildings that are not an exception, the University urges students to respect others’ decisions to wear a mask and continues to require masks for anyone who is not fully vaccinated.

“I also ask all members of our community to support anyone who chooses to wear a mask, noting that there could be many reasons one might do so,” Gabel said in her May 14 announcement.

The University’s definition of a fully vaccinated individual is someone two weeks removed from the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the second shot of the Pfizer-BioNtech, Moderna, AstraZeneca or Sinopharm vaccines.

Although vaccinations will not be required for fall enrollment, the University is encouraging unvaccinated individuals to schedule a vaccine appointment with Boynton upon their return to campus.

While the vaccine is considered highly effective, public health experts have noted that fully vaccinated people can still contract COVID-19.

Protocols moving forward

The University plans to work with faculty, student and staff governance organizations to create a robust plan for students’ return to campus, according to Jake Ricker, the director of University public relations. Notably, the University announced on June 22 a plan for full capacity audiences at athletic games for the upcoming academic year.

Nonetheless, the pandemic is still dynamic; much like tuberculosis or measles, it is expected that the coronavirus will be a constant for the foreseeable future, according to the University’s COVID-19 Response Team.

According to Ricker, the University continues to encourage all students, regardless of vaccination status, to get tested for COVID-19 as necessary — especially if symptoms such as fever, cough or shortness of breath occur.

The new Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus now makes up 20.6% of all new cases in the United States.

And though many COVID precautions have been lifted, Ricker said the University will continue to consult public health experts to monitor the virus and its variants.

“As there are a variety of factors to consider in these situations, ranging from community spread to vaccine effectiveness against any COVID-19 variant that occurs, the University will evaluate changes to current public health measures, as needed, on an ongoing basis,” Ricker said.