South Dakota's public universities will end their mask mandates on campus as the 2021 spring semester ends this week, leaders said Tuesday, May 4.

South Dakota Board of Regents Executive Director and CEO Brian Maher said the changes coincide with the Board of Regents’ plans for a return to normal campus operations this fall.

At the recommendation of university presidents, a system-level protocol that required face coverings in all public indoor spaces on campus since last fall. A change to “mask-optional environments" takes place Monday, May 10.

“Our system has continuously responded to changing circumstances caused by the pandemic,” Maher said in a statement. “With vaccines now widely available, our institutions are eager to adjust as we look forward to the fall semester. Administrators will continue to monitor conditions, making the best decisions possible with information available to them.”

Since Aug. 9, 2020 through May 1, South Dakota's six public universities have reported 2,668 cases of COVID-19, which is 64.5% of the total number of cases at all of the state's higher education institutions (4,134 cases).

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South Dakota State' University, which has had the most COVID-19 cases of any South Dakota university with 1,005, saw its active case count of students and faculty peaked with the opening of school in the fall at about 100 cases. Since Jan. 1, the active case count has been at 20 or lower. The university said Tuesday that it has administered more than 10,000 COVID-19 tests in the last year and is working with Brookings Health to provide vaccines to students.

The fall semester is scheduled to begin at SDBOR schools on Aug. 23, 2021. Those institutions include Black Hill State University, Dakota State University, Northern State University, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, South Dakota State University and the University of South Dakota.