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Faculty, staff and students attending a California State University this fall will be required to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus to access campuses, the chancellor’s office announced Tuesday.
The CSU had intended to wait until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to any one of the existing vaccines, but “because of evolving circumstances,” Chancellor Joseph Castro made the announcement now.
“The current surge in Covid cases due to the spread of the highly infectious delta variant is an alarming new factor that we must consider as we look to maintain the health and well-being of students, employees and visitors to our campuses this fall,” Castro said. “Receiving a Covid vaccine continues to be the best way to mitigate the spread of the virus. We urge all members of the CSU community to get vaccinated as soon as possible, and announcing this requirement now allows members of the CSU community to receive multiple doses of a vaccine as we head into the beginning of the fall term.”
In an interview with EdSource, Castro said that he and campus leaders are alarmed by the increase in coronavirus hospitalizations across the state and increasing Covid-19 cases in places like Los Angeles County. Statewide hospitalizations have increased by about 95% in the past two weeks, he said.
CSU officials are still drafting a vaccination policy and the dates by which faculty, staff and students must certify their vaccinations will vary by campus. Officials at Cal Poly Pomona announced Tuesday that students and non-union-represented employees will be required to verify their vaccinations by Aug. 16. Those people who don’t verify their vaccinations with the university will be required to test weekly for Covid-19.
Of the 26,251 students who have enrolled in fall classes on the Pomona campus, fewer than 2,090 students have chosen to take at least one in-person class, according to the university.
Exemptions will be made for students and employees who can’t be vaccinated because of medical or religious reasons. But all certifications must be completed no later than Sept. 30, according to the chancellor’s office. Fall term for some CSU campuses begins as early as Aug. 18.
Cal State Student Association President Isaac Alferos said the statewide student group is encouraging the CSU community to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
“After 16 months of virtual learning and community building, I and many of my fellow students are excited but also nervous about the transition back to campus,” said Alferos, who attends Cal State Fullerton. “We will continue to support a Covid-19 vaccine requirement to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our community and encourage all CSU stakeholders to also support this requirement.”
The chancellor’s office will work with its labor unions on the vaccination policy and won’t take disciplinary action against represented employees until the final policy is complete.
“I am vaccinated and I encourage faculty to get vaccinated if they can so that we all do our part to make the CSU a safe place to work,” said Charles Toombs, president of the California Faculty Association, which is the union representing CSU faculty.
The faculty union said it would work with the chancellor’s office to protect the health and safety of the CSU community.
In a statement, the union said: “Recent increases in the rates of Covid-19 infection, particularly due to the delta variant is alarming for many as educators and students prepare for the start of the school year… After more than 17 months of varying degrees of sheltering in place; the loss of family, loved ones and friends; and learning and teaching, working and parenting from home, California continues to grapple with the pandemic’s changing circumstances and increasing spread of variants, especially among unvaccinated people.”
The University of California announced earlier this month that it would also require students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated against Covid-19 for campus access. UC’s policy requires students and staff to show proof of vaccination two weeks before the start of the fall term.
The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, which oversees the 115 in-person system, can’t legally issue a vaccine mandate or requirement, according to a system representative.
But Tuesday, acting Community Colleges Chancellor Daisy Gonzales urged local community college districts — that do have the authority — to adopt vaccination mandates. California’s statewide case rate rose from a low in May of 1.9 cases per 100,000 a day to at least 9.5 cases per 100,000 a day. The vast majority of new cases are among the unvaccinated, with 600% higher case rates among the unvaccinated than for those who are vaccinated, Gonzales said.
“If you have been waiting to get your vaccination, now is the time,” Gonzales said. “The delta variant is predominantly striking unvaccinated people, driving up the number of cases and hospitalizations.”
Castro said some campus leaders are looking at incentives, such as scholarships, textbook vouchers or prizes, to help encourage students and staff to get vaccinated.
Even for those who are vaccinated, Castro said they should be taking “an abundance of caution” and continue to be as safe as possible around unvaccinated people, for example, those students who may leave campus and go into towns and cities with low vaccination rates.
“The system announced last December that we would have a majority of our courses in-person this fall,” he said. “And as of today, that’s still the plan. There’ll be some differences by campus … and if for some reason we need to make an adjustment to our plan, we’ll do it as soon as we possibly can to give people advance notice.”
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