UW System will need lawmakers’ approval to put Covid-19 mandates in place this fall

A photo of Bascom Hall at UW Madison
Bascom Hall

Ahead of the upcoming school year, a GOP-led legislative committee has voted 6-4 to require University of Wisconsin System campuses to submit COVID-19 mandates as emergency rules for approval.

The vote means that the UW System will have to submit all mandates, including requirements for masks or COVID-19 testing, to the Republican-controlled Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules within 30 days of implementation. If JCRAR does not approve part or all of the rule or the 30-day timeframe expires, UW System would be required to drop the rule.

“Today, the legislature through JCRAR has told the UW System they can no longer ignore state law with regards to Covid-19 mandates impacting students and campus visitors,” JCRAR co-chairman Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) said in a statement after the vote. “Government issued Covid-19 mandates and lockdowns have failed miserably in dealing with this virus.”

The Wisconsin State Journal reported earlier today that UW-Madison is considering a mask mandate for staff and students for the school year, which would join three other Big 10 schools that have already issued similar mandates.

In a statement, UW System spokesperson Mark Pitsch said it was a political move.

“Today’s action feels like a political statement; our focus is to ensure we are doing what needs to be done now to safely open for in-person teaching this fall,” Pitsch said in an email.

Last week, interim president and former Republican governor Tommy Thompson addressed the proposed JCRAR resolution in a statement.

“From day one when I started as President of the UW System, the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff during a global pandemic has been our top priority and responsibility,” Thompson said.

“Given my experience as a former United States Health and Human Services Secretary, I know the biggest threat to in-person classes this fall would be actions that strip the UW System of the tools it has so successfully used to date to address outbreaks and reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has already announced masking and testing requirements for their campus this fall.

“UWM will require weekly testing of unvaccinated faculty, staff and students who are not 100% online,” they announced in a statement. “The mandatory testing will continue through at least Sept. 30 as conditions warrant.”

The Big Ten commissioner said in a recent press conference that the conference would be taking a decentralized approach and allowing schools to set their own COVID policies.