As COVID-19 cases spike, Task Force discusses further restrictions
By Alex Budzynski AND HUNTER ELLIS, Editor-in-Chief and Managing Multimedia Editor
Xavier is now requiring all students to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to the spring semester as announced in yesterday’s campus-wide message from Dr. Colleen Hanycz, president. This update comes as Xavier is experiencing a surge in positive cases, consistent with national trends.
According to the email message, this protocol follows full Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of a COVID-19 vaccine. With this announcement, Xavier becomes the first institution in the Greater Cincinnati region to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine. This requirement does not apply to university employees.
Chair of the COVID-19 Task Force Jeff Coleman clarified how the vaccine mandate will be enforced.
“In order to register for spring classes on Oct. 18, students have to show proof of their first shot. Then, By Jan. 3, students have to show proof that they’ve been fully vaccinated, otherwise they will be withdrawn from their classes,” Coleman said.
Students expressed mixed reactions about the vaccine requirement. Junior exercise science major Iain Kirby was pleased to receive the announcement.
“As someone who is going to be a future healthcare provider, it’s hard for me to understand other people who don’t want to get the vaccine. However, for the greater good of the Xavier community, I think it’s important that they are required for the spring.”
In contrast, senior biomedical science major Jayla Copland did not agree with the decision.
“I don’t think the vaccine is right, because it is your body and your choice,” she said.
According to Coleman, students with medical and religious stipulations will be exempt from the mandate.
This announcement comes after a week and a half of classes and at a time when Xavier is seeing a spike in positive tests, despite 77% of students being fully vaccinated.
According to the most recent data shared on the COVID-19 Dashboard, Xavier is experiencing one of the highest surges in cases since the start of the pandemic, with 86 active, positive cases as of this Tuesday.
The campus message also stated that cases are being reported in vaccinated and unvaccinated students.
“We’re seeing more breakthrough cases than we had anticipated… in our planning for this semester we assumed if 80% of students were vaccinated, they would not contract the virus,” Coleman said.
Coleman noted that although there are more breakthrough cases than expected, it is still imperative that students receive a vaccine.
“Most of the students that are vaccinated and are getting the virus are experiencing mild to no symptoms… The vaccine never said that you wouldn’t get sick. What it said was you wouldn’t get as sick or end up in the hospital,” Coleman remarked.
According to the Task Force, the vaccine requirement has nothing to do with the spike in cases.
“That decision had been made a while back, but we were waiting for FDA approval to make an official announcement on it,” Coleman clarified.
However, students can expect more changes in the coming days in response to the rise in positive cases.
“We’re looking at strengthening and expanding the mask mandate to more indoor spaces. (We’re encouraging) social distancing wherever you can. Try to keep group gatherings to a reasonable number. Be aware, especially with the Labor Day weekend coming up,” Coleman stated.
Additionally, the university will likely refine its Zoom policy, reintroducing hybrid and online options.
“I received a proposal this evening for how we’re going to pivot to potentially offering a Zoom option as we did last semester, but only for students that are in quarantine or isolation due to COVID… that’s going to be the number one item on the Task Force’s agenda (this) morning when we meet.”
Coleman noted that students can expect to hear about these changes by the end of this week via the Provost’s office.
Dean of Students Jean Griffin emphasized the need for students to change their actions in order to prevent further restrictions from the university.
“I really hope we can make the changes we need to make voluntarily… if it doesn’t work, I think we have… to look at what additional expectations we might have (to) put into place,” she said.
“The variant is starting to be pretty prevalent in our community… (it) has created a concerning reality. It is concerning to see the cases rise as quickly as they have,” Griffin continued.
Coleman noted that a number of positive cases have been traced to large off-campus gatherings, which could be resulting in the spike.
“As we were doing our contact tracing, a majority (of positive cases) have been traced to three or four large social events — house parties. There was also an event at Stones Lanes recently that we’ve traced a number of cases to,” he said.
In general, students were not surprised by the recent surge.
“I wish it wasn’t that way, but we’re now in this situation where off campus students are having a COVID-19 spike and we need to be aware of our actions,” Kirby said.
“We’re seeing no indication of spread in classrooms on campus or in other facilities on campus so that’s really good news,” Coleman elaborated.
Following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and TriHealth officials, vaccinated individuals will only be required to quarantine for 10 days if they are symptomatic or until they receive a negative test result. Inoculated, asymptomatic students are not required to quarantine, even if they are a close contact.
This year, Manor House has returned to regular residential housing, while the University Apartments remain quarantine housing. However, the majority of cases in this surge are being identified in off-campus students.
In her message, Hanycz emphasized the power of vaccinations, identifying them as critical tools in battling the pandemic that is not over.
“(It) is especially critical as we are now experiencing, nationally, significant numbers of ‘breakthrough’ infections among those who have been fully vaccinated… we remain convinced that we will support those needs best by (requiring vaccines). This community has done extremely well to support our students and one another through this global pandemic. This is but another chapter in that book.”