Two of the largest universities in Saint Paul will not require coronavirus vaccinations of students or employees returning to campus this fall. However, several others will, among them Macalester College, Saint Catherine University, Mitchell Hamline School of Law and, most recently, the University of Saint Thomas. Exemptions will be offered for medical or religious reasons.

Nearly all of the colleges want students, staff and faculty to report their vaccination status by early August to better prepare protocols based on the vaccination rates in their populations. They also are encouraging unvaccinated students and employees to get shots at on-campus health centers and say they will continue to test those who are sick for COVID-19 and quarantine those who have contracted it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had said that fully vaccinated campuses can return to in-person learning without social distancing and facemasks. Last week the agency began recommending indoor face coverings regardless of vaccination status due to the spread of the Delta variant.

 

Saint Catherine
Sunset on the campus of Saint Catherine University, which is among the local colleges requiring students and employees to have COVID-19 vaccinations by the start of the fall semester. Photo by Brad Stauffer

In its guidance to colleges, the Minnesota Department of Health recommends everyone vaccinated and unvaccinated wash their hands frequently, quarantine if exposed to COVID-19 unless they have been vaccinated, and pay attention to travel recommendations and to government calls to wear facemasks.

 

Institutions not mandating vaccinations include the University of Minnesota, Concordia University-Saint Paul and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MNSCU) campuses, among them Saint Paul College.

Colleges not requiring vaccinations say they will follow guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health and the CDC. Those guidelines say colleges with low vaccination rates should impose social distancing, facemasks, and stringent protocols for identifying sick students and staff. Several colleges are now refining their plans for returning students and will announce them in the coming weeks.

 

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MNSCU’s website said the system’s campuses will not require vaccinations based on Minnesota Department of Health guidelines. Instead, it is encouraging faculty, staff and students to get vaccinated and their campuses are offering the shots. It is also recommending that unvaccinated people wear masks.

Concordia provost and chief operating officer Eric LaMott said in early June that the college will not require vaccines, but it encouraged students, faculty and staff to get them.

“As with the previous academic year, we are in close contact with state officials and monitoring all data points to inform any updates to our plans,” LaMott said in a statement this week. “Concordia-Saint Paul’s COVID response plan and safety protocols proved very successful in helping us maintain in-person learning alongside our online delivery for the 2020-21 school year. We look forward to a healthy, safe and productive academic year when students return for the fall semester.”

“Given the way campus life inherently puts people in close proximity to each other, including residence and dining halls, classrooms and gatherings, we’ve determined that a vaccination requirement is the best way to keep our community safe and prevent potential outbreaks as we return to more regular, in-person operations,” Saint Catherine’s website stated.

UST vaccine
UST student Simon Zamani shows proof of his COVID-19 shot during a #VaxUpTommies campaign that ran in July. Mark Brown/University of Saint Thomas

UST had earlier announced that it was not mandating the vaccine this fall, but had decided to take a voluntary approach that would hopefully lead to a higher number of immunized people on campus. Then on August 2 it said it would require all students and employees to be fully vaccinated before returning to campus for the fall semester due to the rapid spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

Per CDC guidance, Saint Thomas said it is requiring unvaccinated individuals to wear face coverings indoors and is encouraging the vaccinated to do likewise. This summer, UST implemented a vaccine incentive program and outreach. Since then, 1,300 new COVID-19 vaccinations were reported by students and employees. Currently, the overall campus vaccination rate is 78 percent, including 89 percent of employees and 75 percent of students.

Madonna McDermott, executive director for the university’s Center for Well Being, had expressed concern over the rapid spread of the Delta variant, which constitutes most of the new cases in the United States. On July 20, UST reported three new COVID-19 cases after weeks of having none.

UST had required students and employees to report their vaccination status by August 1. It also was encouraging all those on campus to get vaccinated either by their health care provider or by the Center for Well Being.

 

Macalester president Dr. Suzanne Rivera announced in a late April letter that, with limited exceptions, all those who will work or study on campus must be fully vaccinated by August 2. Macalester based its decision on several principles, including that the well-being of the campus “should not be at risk due to personal preferences.”

Macalester spokesman Joe Lindseth said the college has been working out the details of its return-to-campus plan, which it hoped to publicize on its website by the end of July.

Saint Catherine more recently announced that it was requiring all students and employees to get vaccinated by an August 16 deadline, unless they receive a medical or religious exemption. Students and faculty whose classes are fully online also can seek an exemption.

“Given the way campus life inherently puts people in close proximity to each other, including residence and dining halls, classrooms and gatherings, we’ve determined that a vaccination requirement is the best way to keep our community safe and prevent potential outbreaks as we return to more regular, in-person operations,” Saint Catherine’s website stated.

In a May letter signed by president Anthony Niedwiecki and three other administrators, Mitchell Hamline announced that it would require vaccines for faculty, staff and students as of August 1. Unvaccinated employees must work out remote plans with managers, the letter said, and students can take lessons online.

“We look forward to returning to campus, but we need to do this in the safest way possible,” the administrators said. “Getting vaccinated along with adhering to the school’s health protocols will help the Mitchell Hamline community reach this goal that much sooner.”

— Frank Jossi

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