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Vaccinated students will be able to do away with masks and mandatory COVID-19 testing at the University of Kentucky, officials announced Thursday.
In a letter to the campus community published Thursday, university President Eli Capilouto advised students, faculty and staff that COVID-19 procedures were changing campuswide. COVID vaccines won’t be mandated, but the university is releasing vaccinated individuals from several protocols: testing, mask-wearing, daily screening and contact tracing.
The unvaccinated face significant regulations and some potential consequences for not following them.
The new policies take effect on Monday and are expected to remain in place for the fall semester. The new policies don’t apply to UK HealthCare facilities. UK HealthCare is following a “phased approach” to resuming pre-coronavirus operations.
“Throughout our commonwealth and our country, we see growing signs of optimism and hope about emerging from this pandemic and beginning our return to some sense of normalcy,” Capilouto said in his letter. “At the same time, we must remain vigilant. The virus is still present here and around the world.
“And that means we must continue to do everything necessary to protect the health and safety of our campus.”
What vaccinated UK students, employees won’t have to do
Vaccinated members of the campus community won’t have to wear their masks in any campus facility (aside from UK HealthCare facilities) or get regularly tested for coronavirus, Capilouto said. They also won’t have to follow contact tracing protocols if they come in contact with COVID-19.
Vaccinated students, staff and faculty won’t have to complete UK’s daily screening, which is a brief questionnaire intended to help those groups monitor themselves for COVID-19 symptoms.
Those who aren’t vaccinated have to wear masks indoors, Capilouto said. The mask mandate will also apply outdoors if unvaccinated individuals are close to other people.
Unvaccinated students will also have to get tested, Capilouto said.
“Students who physically come to campus and who have not been vaccinated will be required to complete an entry test and to continue testing on a regular basis, likely once a month, as students did throughout the spring 2021 semester,” he said.
How UK will determine who’s vaccinated, who isn’t
While vaccines aren’t mandatory, campus community members are being asked to provide proof of vaccination to be exempt from previous COVID-19 procedures. UK has set up a self-reporting tool to provide proof of vaccination.
Anyone who hasn’t provided proof of vaccination will be asked to complete daily screening and student testing.
UK will accept all vaccines approved by the World Health Organization.
“The best path forward, especially to maximize the safety of you and others, and to be able to take full advantage of all campus resources and privileges is to get vaccinated,” Capilouto said.
As of Thursday, about 70 percent of students, staff and faculty had been vaccinated, Capilouto said. A UK spokesperson told the Herald-Leader Friday that about 60 percent of students, 70 percent of staff and 80 percent of faculty had been vaccinated.
UK spokesperson Sarah Geegan said the campuswide vaccination rate may be higher than 70 percent. UK has tracked its campus vaccination progress through UK-operated vaccine clinics, as well as vaccination documents voluntarily provided by people who got vaccinated through outside clinics, Geegan said.
Anyone who got vaccinated at an outside clinic and hasn’t provided proof to UK yet hasn’t been counted.
Enforcement, discipline for remaining COVID-19 protocols
Students who haven’t provided proof they are vaccinated and violate the COVID-19 safety protocols will be referred to the Student Conduct office, Geegan said.
At the start of the pandemic, UK added coronavirus-specific regulations into the student conduct code. Unvaccinated students are subject to the student conduct code if they violate the protocols, Geegan said.
While vaccination documentation will be used to enforce regular testing and screening, mask enforcement for unvaccinated students won’t be as strict.
Geegan said UK officials will “communicate broadly our expectations and policies regarding masks and face coverings on campus.”
“This outreach will include emails, signage, social media etc.,” she said. “We trust that members of our community will comply with our policies, as they did throughout the past year.”
Returning to full capacity for class, athletics, more
Attendance at UK sporting events will return to full capacity, Capilouto said. On-campus events will also return to the policies they had before COVID-19, “which allow for greater capacity and attendance,” he said. Capacity restrictions are also being lifted on university vehicles.
For contact tracing purposes, registered student organizations will have to track attendance at their events. If UK becomes aware of a positive case at one of the events, officials will use the voluntary vaccine proof to determine who needs to go through contact tracing protocols and who doesn’t, Geegan said.
Capilouto said UK classrooms and offices will go back to their “normal configurations” this summer and fall, which means the university will remove measures previously put in place to enforce social distancing.
“Over the summer, UK officials ... will monitor this issue as we prepare for the fall. As always, our top priority will be the health and safety of our campus community,” Capilouto said.
On-campus dining halls will also operate at normal capacity, Capilouto said. The university will keep some of the dining hall indoor safety protocols, such as plexiglass shields, hand sanitizing stations and “healthy behavior” signs.
What will UK’s housing, move-in look like?
UK’s move-in process is going back to normal, Capilouto said. Campus visits will also go back to normal, as will “K Week,” which is a week of orientation for first-year students to help them smoothly transition to college.
UK will keep on-campus isolation housing for students who have COVID-19 or need to go through contact tracing protocols, Capilouto said.
UK also plans to add language to the student housing contract strongly encouraging COVID-19 vaccinations.
Capilouto said UK expected to keep updating return-to-campus guidelines over the summer.
“Although our plans are based on current evidence, we will continue to monitor new evidence as well as state and federal guidelines,” he said. “Together, we have long awaited the opportunity to plan our return to the vibrant residential campus experience that makes us so special.”