Colleges in the 2021-2022 Academic Year & Coronavirus (Part 2)

I was on a college campus watching an outdoor sporting event on Thursday. They would only let parents and friends of players into the stands, so the rest of us were sitting on steps or the grass.

One guy was told to put a mask on. He said, “The president said we don’t have to, outside” but the campus worker said it was private property and a mask was still required. Honestly, few on the hill had masks on but all in the stands had to wear them but the college still has the rule.

By fall, it is expected that unvaccinated people will be in two categories: (a) medically unable to be vaccinated with any of the available vaccines (small numbers), and (b) voluntarily refused vaccine (large numbers). The currently large group who wants vaccine but has not yet been able to get it (plus the waiting time after vaccination to become fully protected) and therefore still vulnerable to involuntary risk of the virus is not expected to be a concern (except for the small group (a)) in the fall.

Because, by fall, group (b) will be voluntarily taking the risk of the virus, colleges and other entities may choose to reduce restrictions, since it will be mainly the voluntary virus risk takers that would be vulnerable to the virus. However, the small group (a) would still be a concern, though they are likely to have a concern with other viruses and bacteria as well and are probably used to having to take extra precautions in normal life.

Group (b) could still cause external effects in terms of breeding variants of concern if the virus continues to circulate among them.

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My daughters school reported at least 87% of undergrads have gotten vaccinated, so they dropped the weekly testing for those students. The kids were thrilled. They also dropped the outside mask mandate because at least 74% of their total population reports they are vaccinated. The students are all very aware that their ability to have restrictions lifted depends on the population’s vaccination numbers.

When they reported their numbers faculty and staff were about 72% vaccinated but grad students were only 61%. I wonder if the carrot of dropping weekly testing will encourage more to get vaccinated? It’s possible more are vaccinated than reported though because this is just results of a survey they were asked to fill out and only 69% of grad students responded (vs. 94% of undergrads). The school has to base things on survey results because they are in a state that does not currently allow proof of covid vaccination.


Some colleges will be offering in the fall the carrot/stick that vaccination allows the student (on an individual basis) to be exempt from requirements like frequent testing or quarantining if exposed. This applies both to those that will require vaccination but have non-medical exemptions that vaccine refusers are likely to use, and those which will not require vaccination.

I wonder if colleges and universities not requiring a mandate will use a “group a/group b” thought process or whether they will simply look at infection and vaccination patterns across the US, in their local area, among the age group and in the student population coming to campus, and respond accordingly. I think vaccine mandates signal confidence and earnestness on the intent to return to “normal” - and the earlier announced, perhaps, the better - but I wonder how truly impactful they will be in terms of infection behavior or Covid policy come fall. Again, it’s going to differ by the specifics of each university’s locale, student population, and so forth as well as state law, FDA status, and so forth.

@ucbalumnus: the UC system’s mandate is “proposed” at this point and rests importantly on the lifting of EUA - is that correct? I’ve read a couple of takes, one of which is that they will impose a mandate anyway come fall even if the FDA is delayed. But another is that it does require the lifting of EUA first. They announced, obviously, in the hopes that they will be able to implement such a mandate and to prepare students accordingly. Is there anything in CA state law, present or future, to change this expectation?

You may want to look at various college statements here:

I do not know of any specific California law in relation to your question.

Weekly testing is no longer recommended per CDC if the person is fully vaccinated so that makes sense. The relaxation of outdoor mask requirements is also in keeping with recent CDC guidelines and of course applies to everyone (some exceptions for the unvaccinated w/r/t group gatherings). As students better understand how colleges and universities make these decisions - based on current and future expected infection rates, for the most part, rather than granting exemptions as a “reward” - they will still come to understand how important their own role is in keeping the infection rate down for good.

I guess the following is an example of what I was noticing:
UC Proposes COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate | UC Davis.

“For now, the vaccinations are highly recommended. But, under a proposed policy issued Thursday (April 22) and which the university hopes to implement for the fall term, all personnel, trainees and students accessing university facilities and programs in person would be required to be immunized against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The proposal allows for limited exceptions and exemptions.” . . . “Enforcement of the mandate would be delayed until at least one vaccine has full approval from the Food and Drug Administration (vaccines being administered now in the United States have only emergency-use authorization) and is widely available.”

I figured the “proposed” as opposed to “currently mandated” has to do with state law but you would understand that better than I.

Making “rewards” or “penalties” based on group performance (e.g. vaccination rate of students) tends to be less effective at incentivizing individual behavior when the group is large, since some individuals do not care about others in the group and resist peer pressure, and individuals may feel that they have too little influence over the group performance to make it worth bothering to help the group performance.

I wonder, though, how many institutions will indeed be incorporating rewards and penalties in their Covid decisions going forward, as opposed to lifting and re-imposing restrictions based on health guidelines and overall group numbers. Most things like waiving weekly testing is to reduce the number of unnecessary tests, not to “reward” the vaccinated. A student might indeed believe it’s a carrot, but not sure the university is thinking so. Now, if they reduce tuition for the vaccinated - that’s different!

Oops, I was typing that very late and on my phone and didn’t mean to say they changed their mask mandate as they didn’t. I meant it only to say because of their vaccine mandates they changed their modalities for next fall but no changes to mask mandates. Ugh - need to not be typing after midnight on my phone after a long day at work!

Their plans you mentioned about in March are what I’m referring to that have started to change. The dorm setup at 80% is remaining the same which is fantastic. That change is merely not having triples or quads and to be frank, not many wants those anyway. At my daughter’s school a triple is what is considered a “forced triple” which is really a double with a third person. So at Michigan now if you get a regular double, you’re getting a room that was previously for 4 which is more ideal. As we know, unless it’s one of the crazy nice private dorms (Michigan doesn’t have them) we are talking typical college dorm rooms. Stamps has announced more in person classes. My friend’s daughter is in stamps and they announced that they’re changing their social distancing requirements to only 3 ft which will allow for increased occupancy in classrooms and studios and that they’re going to developing a revised schedule that has more in person classes than previously planned. My son will be in Engineering and his classes already show as all in person so.

As far as a dorm quarantine, they’ve never said the kids had to quarantine in the dorms this fall. Neither of my other kid’s schools had a dorm quarantine last year either with the exception of one of them having a one day quarantine while they waited for a negative covid test after arriving on campus in the fall. I do think Michigan has said they’re staggering the dorm move in over a week as opposed to 2-3 days like they’ve done in the past, but more so because it was really successful last year and parents really liked it. It does make things a lot less rushed. After flying to move two kids into apartments in two different states he will be the third to drop off and fortunately no planes involved.

@twoinanddone There are a lot of inconsistencies with colleges and even high schools with mask wearing or not. Our high school requires spectators to wear masks and for my son’s sport he can only have 2 guests. I don’t mind wearing my mask, as it’s not a big deal at all. It’s just second nature at this point. My husband is watching the NFL draft and told me they have had 90k people attend so far over the 2 days and I was surprised, then realized it was in Ohio but then he said to get in you had to be vaccinated. I was impressed. He said many people have masks but not all, but there’s a perfect example of mandated vaccine being used to get into a “sporting” event. I guess this is the way of the future.

@PrdMomto1 Way to go! My daughter’s school is 50% vaccinated. They just had a huge number of people get vaccinated during a couple of wellness days last week so it will be interesting to see what the % is when those pop in there. Until recently the school didn’t have the vaccine available so students who qualified had to drive an hour or more away to get vaccinated and many don’t have cars so it was difficult. When my daughter qualified we told her do what she can to get there as it was so important to get that vaccine. Her second dose was scheduled the day before a preliminary and fortunately her professor was understanding if she had side effects that would impact her ability to take it. Luckily she had no issues and was able to study and take the exam. Agree that more are vaccinated than have reported. Seniors aren’t coming back next year so no reason for them to update their information, although they can reduce their testing from 3 to 1x/week if they want. But with a few weeks left of school, some may not care. The rest of the population needs to be vaccinated by mid-July.

Colorado State University is also basing their vaccine mandate on the EUA authorization becoming full authorization. I believe they have reported that Pfizer has applied for full authorization or will be soon. I thought I heard that you need 6 months of data though, so if true, then we don’t have that yet. But in any case, it sounds like there is plenty of time to get full authorization well before the end of August when schools go back.

Relaxed outdoor mask requirement is not full no mask requirement, so in large groups it is still recommended. So perhaps that is why in certain areas of the sporting event they needed to wear the masks as it should be. The variant is the biggest concern and most likely to be the thing that breaks through the people vaccinated if we don’t reach herd immunity.

I do not believe this has to do with state law at all, but that they’re only waiting for FDA approval of the vaccine because the UC schools have made it clear that once the vaccine has full FDA approval then they it is mandated. It has nothing to do with state law. California schools are not the only public universities that have mandated the vaccine and the state laws are not dictating whether they can or can’t mandate it. It’s what the university is deciding in these cases.

You are correct - state law is not the issue. It’s federal law, as I’m learning. The EUA authorization statute, introduced in 2004, contains language allowing a person to accept or refuse the treatment. The wording is subject to interpretation and hasn’t been tested by the courts yet, particularly in the context of a pandemic and vaccine mandates to counter such. But one legal interpretation has been that this exception will preclude governments from requiring treatments that have EUA authorization. I suppose the dot-connecting would be from the state government to the public system of land-grant research universities. The California public university system might be considered a division of the state government. This may explain why the UC system is banking on full FDA approval prior to the mandate taking effect. States obviously have the general authority to issue vaccine mandates - that’s been upheld numerous times. The challenge seems to be with the wording of the EUA provision itself.

I think you are correct. I still think the UC and CSU systems could have drawn a distinction between accessing their core educational component (no vaccine required until full FDA approval to access classroom, libraries, labs, etc.) and accessing campus amenities (vaccine required, even with only EUA, to access campus housing, varsity and intramural sports, rec center, indoor dining, etc.). It’s disappointing that they just rolled over on this issue because it’s definitely going to affect the quality of the campus experience next year.

Right…it seems the federal government will not mandate the vaccines for their employees and the military until full FDA approval because of the wording of the statue.

I am sure there will be legal challenges to entities that mandate the vaccines. The wording of the EUA statute does give a person the choice to accept or refuse the product, but, the statue says nothing about the rights of public or private companies, schools, etc. levying consequences on people who have chosen to not receive said EUA product (the vaccine in this case)…so no enrollment to X college, or access to the NFL draft, etc. unless you have been vaccinated.

Further complicating the issue is that the three EUA vaccines had been tested in a greater number of people than a typical vaccine has been tested in when it files for full FDA approval. Who knows if that will make a difference legally, or not.

And I’d guess that the 80% capacity wouldn’t impact first year students anyway and that they would be assured of housing on campus should they want it (and given their vaccine status), just given the importance of on-campus housing to those incoming students and their families.

I can’t even imagine trying to earn a BFA w/o having access to the studio! Especially if you are still in foundation. For engineering, pre-reqs and gen eds fill up most of the typical first-year schedule so if Michigan is able to hold those in-person that’s terrific news!

Glad your daughter was able to get it! My daughter got hers when they had an unexpected vaccination event on campus during a storm when the local health department had a LOT of shots that were going to go to waste and needed to get in arms quickly. Then the school allowed a local health system to use the football stadium as a vaccination site so a lot of students and staff were vaccinated there. Eventually they were able to get enough doses from the state to vaccinate all students, faculty and staff who wanted in. Some kids also traveled to rural areas in the state to find it. She said everyone on campus is just so much happier now that things are starting to lighten up a bit.


Private entities (including colleges and universities) probably have more leeway here than do public ones.

I’d think it’d make a difference in the timeline to full approval for sure. Requires six months of data (but I don’t know the details). I think with the UC system they only need one of the vaccines to reach full approval. Approval will make a huge difference both in the legal standings of the mandates (perhaps all publics are counting on this occurring prior to fall '21) and in public confidence. I realize we’ve hashed through some of this upthread. I’m just now getting completely up to speed w/r/t the legal aspect :slight_smile:

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I’m no epidemiologist, but even if the US does, indeed, reach herd immunity before a variant breaks through, doesn’t that still mean we face another potential pandemic? If would just enter the country from elsewhere in the world.

Why would it necessarily affect the quality of the campus experience, other than for those who voluntarily refuse vaccination and get COVID-19 or be subject to added restrictions like testing and quarantine requirements? By fall, everyone 16 or older is likely to have had ample time and opportunity to get vaccinated, so COVID-19 risk becomes mostly a personal choice, not a mostly involuntary risk that can get imposed on people against their will.

Note that California also has a relatively high level of vaccine enthusiasm anyway, so the vaccine uptake among California college students is likely to be relatively high compared to college students in general.

The main thing that can change this calculation is if a dangerous variant that largely evades vaccine protection shows up, but then all colleges and other entities, whether or not they required vaccination, will be in trouble with “back to normal” plans.

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12-15 vaccine approval should be very very soon…which willhelp this whole mess! We are partnered w health department(for covid vaccine) and have been hearing the past couple of weeks it is definitely soon and to get ready for the increase in eligibility.