While Northern Michigan University in Marquette hasn’t joined the growing list of universities around the nation that will require returning students to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination, it is revising its mask protocol for the start of the fall semester “because of the higher transmissibility of COVID’s Delta variant and rising caseloads nationwide,” NMU officials announced Wednesday.

Whether vaccinated or not, school officials said all individuals will be required to wear masks in common areas during residence hall move-in activities Aug. 19-23, and in classrooms and labs effective with the first day of classes Aug. 23.

This comes in the wake of alarming evidence that vaccinated people with breakthrough infections can spread the delta variant to others, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported.

In a campus-wide email, President Fritz Erickson also stated that faculty and staff will be allowed to require masks for visitors to their individual offices where social distancing is not possible.

“Although Marquette currently has a low rate of COVID-19 cases, the start of the semester brings a lot of people together coming from areas all over the state, region and country, including many areas where the COVID-19 Delta variant is prevalent,” wrote Erickson. “In light of the new CDC information and rising delta-related COVID cases, we feel that requiring masks where we know larger groups will be gathered indoors for at least the start of the semester will add an extra layer of protection.

This is especially true for activities that are required, such as classes, while other campus activities, which are not required, remain the choice of each individual.”

We encourage returning NMU students to be mindful and respectful of the mask requirement—and to get vaccinated if they have not yet done so—as this preventative measure will help protect the university community and make it more likely that classes remain in-person throughout the year.

And due to NMU’s integration with the surrounding community, we ask students and area residents alike to consider wearing masks when they are out and about. This measure is critical, as the potential spread of the delta variant at NMU and in the greater community are not situations that are isolated or independent of one another.

Rather, the fates of the campus community and area residents are closely linked due to the high level of integration and interaction among the groups.

Many NMU students live and work in the community—and are in fact, a large part of what makes the area a vibrant and exciting place to live—while area residents often have reasons to visit NMU’s campus and use its facilities.

In short, we are in this together. The choices made on campus impact our community, while the choices made in the neighborhoods, towns and cities surrounding NMU impact its students, faculty and staff.

We urge area residents and folks on campus to protect themselves and the intertwined communities by choosing to wear a mask and getting vaccinated. These choices make a difference. Sometimes the difference is between in-person and online classes, but other times, it is between open communities and lockdowns, or even life and death.