Today’s blog entry discusses the CDC Guidance For Institutions Of Higher Education Updated June 4, 2021. In short, if you are an institution of higher education you have to strongly consider mandating proof of vaccination for students, faculty, staff, and visitors unless you are in a State that has an executive order or law that prohibits you from doing so. Many colleges and more every day are doing precisely this. Further, Rhodes College in Memphis Tennessee has added a surcharge of $1500 for any student that is not vaccinated to cover Covid-19 tests etc.
Let’s look at the guidance to see why institutions of higher education (IHE), should seriously consider mandating proof of vaccination for its students. Also, there is now a federal court decision saying that employers have a perfect right to mandate vaccines for their employees. I previously discussed here why employers have a perfect right to insist that their employees be vaccinated absent disability or sincerely religious held belief. As usual, the blog entry is divided into categories and they are: fully vaccinated campuses; campuses that are not fully vaccinated; general consideration for all IHE’s; and thoughts/takeaways. Of course, the reader is free to focus on any or all of the categories.
Highlights of the CDC Guidance: Fully Vaccinated Campuses
- IHE can help increase vaccine uptake among students, faculty, and staff by providing information about and offering Covid-19 vaccination, promoting vaccine trust and confidence, and establishing supportive policies and practices making vaccination as is easy and convenient as possible. I recently read a big article in the Wall Street Journal about the University of Florida’s efforts in this regards with respect to the communities surrounding it.
- IHE can consider verifying vaccination status of their student, faculty, and staff.
- IHE with fully vaccinated students, faculty, and staff can refer to CDC’s previous guidance for fully vaccinated people, which basically allows people to go mask free without social distancing except in crowded indoor areas.
- IHE where all students, faculty, and staff are fully (emphasis in the guidance), vaccinated prior to the start of semester, can return to full capacity in person learning without requiring masking or physical distancing for people who are fully vaccinated.
- When holding gatherings and events that include individuals who are not fully vaccinated such as campus visitors from outside of the IHE, the IHE needs to utilize appropriate prevention strategies to protect people who are not fully vaccinated.
- Students, faculty, and staff who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules and regulation, including local business and workplace guidances. While fully vaccinated person do not generally need to wear masks, CDC recommend continued masking and physical distancing for people with weakened immune systems. IHE need to be supportive of students, faculty, or staff who choose to continue to wear a mask for any reason.
- Physical distancing is not necessary for fully vaccinated students, faculty, and staff on campus for IHE where everyone is fully vaccinated.
- People who are fully vaccinated in shared housing per the prior CDC guidance are pretty much free to go about their business mask free.
- People who are fully vaccinated do not need to undergo routine Covid-19 screening testing. If a fully vaccinated person is exposed to someone with Covid-19, they also do not need to be tested unless they are experiencing Covid-19 symptoms.
- Students, faculty, and staff with signs or symptoms of infectious illness should be encouraged to stay home when sick and/or seek medical care.
- People who are fully vaccinated with no Covid-19 symptoms do not need to quarantine or be restricted from work following an exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed Covid-19, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidances.
- Students, faculty, and staff who are fully vaccinated can refrain from testing following a known exposure if they are asymptomatic. People who are fully vaccinated should continue to get tested if experiencing Covid-19 symptoms. Also, students, faculty, and staff who are fully vaccinated can refrain from routine screening testing.
- Fully vaccinated people with no Covid-19 like symptoms and no known exposure should be exempted from routine screening testing programs.
Highlights of the CDC Guidance: Campuses That Are Not Fully Vaccinated
- IHE administrators should create programs and policy facilitating the adoption and implementation of prevention strategies necessary to slow the spread of Covid-19 at the IHE and in the local community. Prevention strategies include: offering and promoting vaccination; consistent and correct use of mask; physical distancing; handwashing and respiratory etiquette; contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine; testing for Covid-19; maintaining healthy environments (increased ventilation and cleaning); and maintaining healthy operations (communication, supportive policies and health equity).
- Consistent and correct masks use by people who are not fully vaccinated is especially important indoors and in crowded settings when physical distancing cannot be maintained.
- Mask use is recommended for people who are not fully vaccinated, including children.
- In general, people do not need to wear masks when outdoors. CDC does recommend that people who are not fully vaccinated wear a mask in crowded outdoor setting or during activities involving sustained close contact with other people who are not fully vaccinated.
- Exception for masks wearing need to be made for people with disabilities who cannot wear a mask due to their disability.
- Exceptions need to be made for person wearing a mask that would create a risk to workplace health, safety, or job duty at determined by the relevant workplace safety guidelines are federal regulations.
- People who are not fully vaccinated should continue to practice physical distancing, which means keeping space of at least 6 feet between people not from your household in both indoor and outdoor spaces.
- Physical distancing promotion strategies include: hosting virtual only activities, events, and gatherings of all sizes; holding activities, events, and gatherings outdoors in areas that can accommodate physical distancing when possible; facing out or blocking off roads, chairs, and/or table seating position in communal use shared spaces (such as classroom, dining halls, locker room, laboratory facility, library, student centers, and lecture room); and limiting occupancy and requiring mask use by people who are not fully vaccinated, including drivers, and on campus buses/shuttles or other vehicles. Alternate or block off roads and increased ventilation (i.e. opening windows if possible).
- IHE can designate fully vaccinated dorms, floors or complexes and those areas get to follow the CDC guidance for fully vaccinated people.
- IHE should consider housing students who are not fully vaccinated in single rooms instead of shared rooms when feasible.
- IHE should consider establishing cohorts of people who are not fully vaccinated, such as groups of dorm rooms or dorm floors that do not mix with other cohorts to minimize transmission across cohorts and facilitate contact tracing. All units sharing a bathroom should be included in a cohort. Roommate/suite mates can be considered a household and do not need to use mask or physically distance within the household unit (dorm room or suite), unless someone in the household is ill.
- IHE should close or limit the capacity of community use shared spaces such as dining areas, game room, exercise room, and lounges, if possible to decrease mixing among non-cohort people who are not fully vaccinated.
- IHE should consider limiting use of communal use shared space to people who are fully vaccinated.
- IHE should consider limiting building access by nonresidents, including outside guests and nonessential visitors to dorms in residence halls.
- IHE should conduct diagnostic or screening testing of student, faculty, and staff for purposes of surveillance or in the context of an outbreak but those recommendations vary depending upon whether a person is fully vaccinated or not.
- IHE may consider maintaining documentation of individual vaccination status to inform testing, contact tracing effort, and quarantine/isolation practices. Any such vaccination information should be obtained with appropriate safeguards to protect personally identifiable information and HIPAA sensitive information from unlawful release.
General Consideration for All IHE
- Cleaning high touch surfaces and shared objects once a day is usually enough to sufficiently remove virus that may be on surfaces unless someone with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 had been in your facility.
- Improving ventilation is an important Covid-19 prevention strategy.
- Staff and volunteers should be required to wash their hands and encourage diners to wash their hands or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after serving or eating.
- In indoor dining areas, people who are not fully vaccinated should wear a mask when not actively eating or drinking and physically distance.
- Prioritize outdoor dining and improve ventilation in indoor dining spaces.
- Particularly in areas with substantial to high levels of community transmission, reduce seating capacity, use markers and guides to ensure that people remain at least 6 feet apart in a mixed campus when waiting in line for pick up. Also, stagger use of dining areas.
- Consider offering to go options and serve individually plated meals. If traditional self-serve plates are offered, check out the CDC recommendations in order to reduce the risk of getting and spreading Covid-19.
- People who are not fully vaccinated should continue to avoid large gatherings, but if they choose to attend they should wear well fitting masks covering the mouth and nose and maintain physical distancing while practicing good hand hygiene.
- For campuses with both fully vaccinated individuals and individuals who are not fully vaccinated, in person instruction should be prioritized over extracurricular activities, (including sports and school events), in order to minimize risk of transmission in schools and to protect in person learning. Mixed campuses may consider limiting the size of gathering to maintain physical defense as an additional measure.
- People who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting including while participating in sports. People who are fully vaccinated can also refrain from quarantine following a known exposure if asymptomatic.
- Players, coaches, trainers, etc. who are not fully vaccinated are at an increased risk for getting and spreading Covid-19. Further, close contact in indoor sports are particularly risky.
- IHE should postpone programs in a nation with very high Covid-19 levels, and they should have plans in place to take action in situations where Covid-19 levels become very high during the program.
- IHE may consider requiring vaccination as a condition of a study abroad program.
- As a preventive law measure, IHE should mandate proof of vaccine for students wanting to return to campus.
- Depending upon location of the IHE, mandating proof of vaccine for return the campus may not be possible. In that case, things will get very complicated in a hurry as a result of this guideline.
- OSHA has said that it will follow CDC with respect to what is a safe workplace. So, if the IHE is not mandating proof of vaccination for its students, that does raise an issue of whether the IHE is providing a safe workplace for its faculty and staff if the CDC guidelines for mixed campuses are also not being followed.
- The IHE may want to consider mandating proof of vaccination for its workers. That is not at all the same at the IHE performing the vaccination itself. If the IHE performs the vaccination itself, there are GINA and ADA concerns that need to be taken into account as we discussed here. As discussed earlier, an employer is perfectly within its rights to mandate the Covid-19 t vaccine for its workers.
- Carrying on sports safely consistent with the CDC guidelines is going to be very difficult on mixed campuses, which will be the case in many regions of the country. Some of those regions are very sports driven but may also have laws or executive orders prohibiting proof of vaccination making the situation even more difficult.
- The college experience, particularly the residential one, is much more likely to be somewhat normal if the campus is fully vaccinated than if the campus is not. Considering many schools derive a great deal of revenue from tuition, having a campus that is fully vaccinated will make it much more likely that people will be willing to pay the tuition for their college experience.
- The CDC guidance says that it is perfectly okay to segregate out people who are fully vaccinated and people who are not fully vaccinated with respect to where they live. On a scientific level, I get that. On a political level, that is likely to be very controversial.
- Look for people who are deaf or hard of hearing and who are fully vaccinated to ask for a person with a mask who they know is fully vaccinated to pull their masks down in order for them to lip read, assuming they are a lip reader. This is a reasonable accommodation request that I am making myself in certain situations. It would get complicated if such an individual made a request in a classroom containing both people who are fully vaccinated and people who are not. The IHE needs to have a plan in place for those situations.
- Offhand, I can’t think of how mask wearing would violate federal workplace safety guidelines and regulations. If such a situation does arise, definitely consult knowledgeable legal counsel.
- People love their single dorm rooms and this guidance might create an incentive for students to not get vaccinated. Admittedly, the CDC doesn’t say that the college must give people who are not vaccinated single rooms. However, it does say that colleges and universities should consider it.