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University of Utah, USU, Weber State to require COVID-19 vaccination for students

Other Utah schools say the higher ed board recommendation is under review

People walk on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021.
People walk on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021. The governing board over Utah’s public colleges and universities is encouraging institutions to consider requiring COVID-19 vaccination at no cost to students. At least three universities have announced they plan to implement such a requirement.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

The governing board over Utah’s public colleges and universities is encouraging institutions to consider requiring COVID-19 vaccination at no cost to students. At least three universities have announced they plan to implement such a requirement.

The University of Utah, in a statement to the campus community, announced Friday that detailed plans on the requirement for students will be announced next week.

“Conversations with state leaders continue about a potential vaccine requirement for faculty and staff. Conversations also continue regarding vaccine requirements for University of Utah Health, including hospitals and clinics employees,” according to the statement.

The statement notes that one week into the fall semester, at least 67% of the U.’s students are fully vaccinated and 4.5% are partially vaccinated. More than 80% of benefitted faculty and staff have been vaccinated.

Utah State University also announced it is working on a vaccination requirement to be implemented this fall that will require students to be vaccinated prior to spring semester, a university spokeswoman confirmed.

A statement from Weber State University said it will also establish a vaccination requirement to be implemented this fall that will require students to be vaccinated prior to spring semester. Details will be shared next week.

“As a Utah System of Higher Education institution, we want to do our part to help the state combat increasing rates of infection and hospitalizations,” the statement said.

Friday night, a joint statement announcing support for the universities came from Gov. Spencer Cox, Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson.

“The law allows Utah’s universities to require vaccinations as long as there is a path for students to submit personal exemptions and attend in-person classes. We support this balanced approach and look forward to keeping students, faculty and staff at our colleges and universities safe this year,” the joint statement read.

A letter sent to the 16 state-supported technical colleges and degree-grant colleges and universities from the Board of Higher Education on Friday encouraged the use of vaccination. “The board views vaccinations as an effective method to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep our campuses open. As you evaluate the needs of your campus and region, we encourage you to consider requiring COVID-19 vaccinations — free of charge — for your students.”

The letter notes that Utah’s public colleges and universities may require students to receive vaccinations as a condition of enrollment if students are provided the option to opt out for medical, religious or personal reasons.

“The board views vaccinations as an effective method to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep our campuses open,” the letter states.

The recommendation is under review at Utah Valley University, Southern Utah University and Snow College, officials said.

At Salt Lake Community College, a letter to students from President Deneece G. Huftalin said the option of a vaccine requirement is under consideration and the college will soon share any changes to its policies or protocols.

“While we are considering these new options, I would ask that you continue to be diligent in wearing face coverings while on campus, regardless of vaccination or immunity status. We know the use of face coverings is an effective way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and something nearly all of us can do to keep everyone at the college safe and well,” Huftalin wrote.

A statement from Dixie State University said: “At this time, Dixie State University is not mandating vaccines for students, faculty and staff. DSU is working with our local health department and government officials to monitor and assess the COVID-19 situation in southern Utah on a daily basis.”

The university strongly encourages vaccines and mask usage and providing free vaccinations clinics for all students, faculty and staff, according to the statement.

The Board of Higher Education’s letter comes a day after an early morning board teleconference on Thursday when university leaders expressed frustration that they had limited options to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on their campuses with the fall term underway and cases rising nationally and in Utah.

The letter says expanding COVID-19 vaccinations among college populations will help campuses “stay open for in-person instruction, provide a safer environment for the campus community, and help ensure that our state’s economy remains open and vibrant in the months ahead.”

During the teleconference, Harris Simmons, the board’s chairman, said the spread of COVID-19 is the biggest threat to Utah’s economy.

“We can’t keep responding with the kind of fiscal stimulus that we saw in the first phase of this, not when there are other solutions,” said Simmons, who is also chairman and CEO of Zions Bancorp.

Some presidents and senior vice presidents participating in the meeting characterized faculty members as “anxious” and “angry” at the prospect of starting fall term without universal masking — which was the case a year ago — or a vaccine requirement.

Utah Valley University’s faculty wrote a letter to Gov. Spencer Cox asking to empower the university to implement a mask mandate to protect students, faculty, staff and communities from further spread of COVID-19.