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Penn State Isn’t Making COVID-19 Vaccines A Must, Will Test Those Unvaccinated Weekly In The Fall

penn state college.jpg
Min Xian

With the fall semester beginning in three weeks, Penn State said it’s not making COVID-19 vaccinations a requirement, but people who are not vaccinated need to wear masks in university buildings and those who haven’t shared their vaccination status with the university will be tested weekly, according to a virtual town hall meeting Tuesday.

University leaders, including President Eric Barron, said students who will be living in residence halls will have to test negative prior to their arrival. The university said it will host vaccine clinics on and around campus and will conduct surveillance testing throughout the fall semester.

“This university is not impartial to vaccination,” Barron said. He repeated the plea for students and employees to get vaccinated multiple times during Tuesday’s town hall.

“Vaccination is the best defense against COVID, and the safety of others depends on our community getting vaccinated. I ask you, please, think about everybody in our community and take the step to get vaccinated and upload that information so that we know,” he said.

Penn State sent an anonymous survey to more than 35,000 faculty and staff across its campuses. Vice President for Human Resources Lorraine Goffe said 56% responded, and among them, 92%, which is roughly 18,000, said they’ve been vaccinated.

Among the 87,000 Penn State students surveyed, 42% responded. Among those responses, 77%, or about 28,000 students, said they are fully vaccinated, according to vice president for Student Affairs Damon Sims.

In addition to encouraging vaccinations and conducting regular testing in the fall, Penn State said it is following updated guidelines from the CDC regarding masking. Director of the Penn State COVID-19 Operations Control Center, Kelly Wolgast, said campuses located in counties reporting substantial or high levels of transmission by the CDC will shift to universal masking regardless of individual vaccination status for at least seven days.

Currently, Centre County, where the University Park campus is located, has a moderate level of community transmission.

The University Park Undergraduate Association, the Graduate and Professional Student Association, the Penn State Faculty Senate and Coalition for a Just University have called on the university to require vaccinations.

Barron said noncompliance with the university’s testing and masking policies will have “significant consequences” but did not specify what they are.

Provost Nick Jones said while there are flexible mitigating measures Penn State can take if things change, the university remains optimistic about an in-person semester.

“We don't believe that a move to remote education will be necessary, as there are plans that we know have proven to be successful in keeping our students in the classroom,” he said. “Our plans for the semester are to offer a fully in-person experience, including, of course, all of our classes, so there will not be remote options for most classes planned. As with previous years, students will work with their instructors if they have to miss class due to illness or... due to quarantine or isolation.”

Penn State employees are expected to return to work in person this month as well.

“If the folks joining us today hear a particular drumbeat, I hope it is the beat of ‘vaccine, vaccine, vaccine.’” Damon Sims said.

Fall semester classes begin on August 23.

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