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Gonzaga University announces COVID-19 vaccine requirement for students

UPDATED: Thu., June 10, 2021

Vaccination and recovery stations at the CHAS Health vaccination clinic in Gonzaga’s Martin Centre on Feb. 26, 2021. The university announced that 86% of the campus population is vaccinated against COVID heading into fall semester.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Vaccination and recovery stations at the CHAS Health vaccination clinic in Gonzaga’s Martin Centre on Feb. 26, 2021. The university announced that 86% of the campus population is vaccinated against COVID heading into fall semester. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Add Gonzaga University to the list of schools that will require campus-based students to prove they are vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to participate in campus activities this fall.

Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh announced the requirement Thursday in a message to the university community.

The requirement extends to students in programs split between in-person and online activities, but not to graduate programs offered exclusively online.

Exemptions will be permitted for medical and religious reasons. When it comes to personal or philosophical objections, McCulloh said the university “cannot determine how those would be evaluated, and so (we) are not including them.”

McCulloh said he expects the university’s COVID-19 vaccination reporting web page to be online later this month.

“Gonzaga’s Pandemic Response Task Force has been carefully considering how to adapt our campus health protocols as more of our faculty, staff and students become fully vaccinated,” he said in the statement. “It is our conclusion that reducing opportunities for infection and transmission is the single most significant prerequisite to lifting COVID-related restrictions and returning to a more normal campus life in the fall.”

Gonzaga joins a number of colleges and institutions across the state with some sort of requirement in place, including Washington State University, Eastern Washington University and the University of Washington.

With employees, Gonzaga is requiring staff to only attest whether they are vaccinated, McCulloh said.

The policy is based on a directive from the state Department of Labor and Industries. The guidance allows employees several options to verify they are fully vaccinated, including a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination card or a hard copy/electronically signed self-attestation. Exemptions will be offered for religious or medical reasons.

“What I shared with our employees, our faculty and staff is before we can relax our masking and social distancing requirements on campus, we have to put a system in place,” McCulloh said. “We are a work environment. The virus is a known hazard. Our obligation is to do everything we can to keep people safe until we have actually created the system whereby we can know who has or who has not been vaccinated, we need to ask people to continue to wear masks.

“Many of our employees have been vaccinated,” McCulloh added about self-attestations, citing how employees volunteered to help during on-campus vaccination clinics. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that they feel comfortable submitting their medical information to our human resources department.”

McCulloh said he communicated the plan to employees May 26.

The vaccination rates with students, faculty and staff could determine at what extent Gonzaga reopens in the fall, said McCulloh, who added that it is very likely the university will require masking for everyone for at least the first part of the semester.

“If somebody doesn’t want to get vaccinated, I can’t make them get vaccinated, and neither can a medical doctor,” he said, “but if we have an insufficient number of people who can provide us evidence that they have been vaccinated, it sets up a whole other set of issues for us, and this is the same concern that every other institution in the state is confronted with and why most of them have gone the same direction.”

With the student requirement, McCulloh said many factors informed the decision, citing the support COVID-19 vaccines have received from public health agencies, the university’s religious mission and “the moral, ethical, and legal obligation” to create a safe campus and work environment.

Gonzaga also considered guidance from the American College Health Association, which has recommended COVID-19 vaccination requirements for all on-campus college and university students for the fall.

“We are all looking forward to safely resuming the many activities that define the Gonzaga experience,” McCulloh said in his statement. “That possibility is now within reach, and I thank you in advance for the critical part each of you will play in achieving our common goal of learning, working and living safely with one another this coming year.”

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