Most colleges not requiring vaccines, but strongly recommend the shots

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Jul. 24—Many Ohio colleges and universities won't require students to get COVID-19 vaccinations as they head back to campus this fall.

But southwest Ohio colleges and universities are encouraging students to get the vaccine, and several Ohio schools say their surveyed vaccination rates are close to or more than 70%.

Miami University, Wright State University, University of Dayton, Wittenberg University, Wilberforce University, Clark State College, Sinclair Community College and Ohio State University all said they currently plan on having some or most classes in-person. None of them plan on mandating vaccines for students.

Wright State administered a voluntary survey in the spring in which over 84% of students and employees that participated indicated that they had already been vaccinated or planned on getting vaccinated, said Seth Bauguess, a spokesman for Wright State.

UD set a goal in May of having 70% of students and staff fully vaccinated before the fall 2021 semester by July 1, which it has since met. UD is asking all employees and students to upload their vaccination record to the university's confidential reporting portal to gauge the level of immunity on campus.

Ohio State said 71% of returning students and staff have reported being vaccinated, and Wittenberg said about 67% of returning students and staff have reported being vaccinated.

Cassie Barlow, president of the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education, said most southwestern Ohio colleges and universities will be offering a mix of online and in-person classes, as well as resuming sports and extracurricular activities. She said all the universities and colleges spent a lot of time planning for the semester.

"Our schools are 100% focused on the needs of their students and their safety as we approach the fall 2021 semester," Barlow said.

Gov. Mike DeWine signed House Bill 244 into law on July 14, which prohibits public Ohio colleges and universities from mandating any individual get a vaccine not given formal approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. While all three vaccines authorized in the U.S. against COVID-19 have been proven safe and effective in clinical trials, they currently have emergency approval from the FDA.

The law takes effect in October and does not apply to private higher educational institutions or to hospitals associated with any university or college.

Cleveland State University, a public school in northeast Ohio, is requiring students living in residence halls to be vaccinated, Alison Bibb-Carson, a spokesman for CSU, said Friday. Medical and religious exemptions are available for qualifying individuals.

"The university is preparing to fully comply with the new law when it takes effect in October," Bibb-Carson said.

Many schools are also opting to not require masks on campus, though some mandates remain in place.

Miami will require masks on campus for nonvaccinated students. Wilberforce kept its mask mandate for indoors. Wittenberg is mandating students wear masks in academic settings with more than two people. An indoor mask requirement and social distancing mandates remain in place for nonvaccinated Ohio State students as well.

Wittenberg also said it plans to test all unvaccinated residential students when they arrive for the fall semester.

Disclosing a vaccine status

The new Ohio law does not prevent colleges from asking students to disclose if they got a vaccine.

None of the universities interviewed said they required students or staff to disclose their vaccine status. Many of them, however, said they were asking students and staff if they had gotten the COVID-19 vaccine through surveys or through online health portals.

"We are asking students, faculty and staff to voluntarily share vaccine information to help inform decisions to keep our entire university community healthy and safe," said Ben Johnson, a spokesman for Ohio State.

Vaccine Goals

Several schools throughout the Dayton region will host vaccine clinics during the fall. The University of Dayton, Wright State and Miami plan on having distribution events on campus. Wilberforce is an active vaccination site for students and other residents.

Ohio State currently has two vaccine clinics operating on campus and Wittenberg has plans for two Pfizer clinics during the upcoming semester.

Wright State said the plans for a vaccine clinic will be sent out to students.

"Campus vaccination opportunities will continue to be promoted via direct email to students, on social media channels, physical posters in housing and on campus, etc.," Bauguess said.

Crowds not currently a worry

Last year, large gatherings at the University of Dayton and at Ohio State led to police involvement and university sanctions for those involved.

While many universities said they don't currently plan on limiting gathering sizes, that does not mean that administrations will be letting their guard down entirely.

"The University of Dayton does not have any restrictions specific to large gatherings relating to COVID-19, but the university will continue to stress to students the importance of not engaging in gatherings that are inherently risky, especially for unvaccinated individuals," UD said in a statement.

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