Coronavirus disease 2019 is an emerging public health problem threatening not only the life but also the normal psychology of people. University students’ mental health is the focus in the field of higher education. The coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic has brought into attention the mental health problems of this vulnerable group. The aim of this study was to assess the impact of coronavirus disease 2019 on the mental health of university students in Sichuan Province, China. We conducted a cross-sectional study from April 2020 to May 2020. The participants responded to an online questionnaire that included informed consent, basic information, 20-item Self Reporting Questionnaire (SRQ-20), and Self-Rating Anxiety Scale (SAS). We received 521 effective responses. The results included the following: 19.0% of respondents reported distress, and 31.5%, 8.1%, and 5.8% of them reported mild, moderate, and severe anxiety, respectively; respondents aged ≤ 22 years, medical students, and those who were in general health reported more distress than others; and medical students and those who paid more attention to pandemic information reported more anxiety than others. Findings suggest that the mental health of university students should be monitored during pandemic, especially for younger students, medical students, students in general health status, and those who paid too much attention to the news of the pandemic. Due to the limited sample representativeness, we must be cautious when generalizing these findings to other regions of China or other countries.