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Eastern Washington colleges begin crackdown on submission of student, staff vaccine statuses

Eastern Washington University student Stefanie Modderman receives the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from Washington State University nursing student Serina Yasuda at the WSU nurs  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington University student Stefanie Modderman receives the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from Washington State University nursing student Serina Yasuda at the WSU nurs (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

With Eastern Washington University’s fall quarter set to start Wednesday, college officials are hoping for a big push in the coming days to collect the campus community’s COVID-19 vaccination information.

The university’s requirement extends to students, faculty and staff who are not fully online or remote. Wednesday was the deadline for students to upload proof of vaccination or request a medical or religious exemption. Students who fail to do so could face a $250 fine.

EWU students are moving onto campus Thursday and Friday. And while the vaccination deadline has come , university officials knew the days from move-in to the start of the fall quarter would be key, given how students aren’t normally focused on deadlines during summer break, said university spokesman Dave Meany.

Given that outlook, the university has not yet tabulated the latest attestation data. Last month, approximately 1,700 students of the roughly 9,000 estimated to attend classes on campus had submitted their information.

Statewide, higher education employees are required to either be fully vaccinated or to have submitted the appropriate medical or religious exemption forms by Oct. 18. To meet that deadline, if they haven’t already received their first shot, staffers covered by the mandate would have to get the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Oct. 4.

Other area colleges and universities have varied rates when it comes to how many students have reported their vaccine status.

Washington State University’s deadline for students to submit proof of COVID-19 vaccination, proof of initiation of vaccination or to request a religious or medical exemption was last Friday.

As of Thursday, 83% of WSU Pullman students have complied with the vaccine requirement, up from 62.2% in late August. Of those students, 94% have submitted proof of vaccination, while the remainder have sought medical or religious exemptions.

Not counted in the compliant total are the number of students who have yet to change over from their request for a personal exemption. WSU is no longer accepting the personal exemption after the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval the Pfizer vaccine. Students who previously sought one have until Oct. 18 to submit the appropriate proof of vaccination or a request for a different exemption.

Specific numbers for those students were not available upon request Thursday.

Students who fail to submit their information could face a registration hold for the spring semester.

WSU spokesman Phil Weiler said employees have embarked on a “pester and annoy campaign” to bring students into compliance, starting with emails and text messages. The next step is phone calls, he said.

“Before we sort of drop the hammer and say we’re putting a hold on your academic account, we want to give people plenty of opportunity to understand what the requirements are,” Weiler said. “When we sent out our first text, we got 1,200 vaccination records submitted immediately afterwards.”

When WSU Spokane reported only a 9% compliance rate last month, Weiler attributed that to technological issues, saying it took several months for the university’s vendor to install the appropriate systems for campuses other than Pullman. Pullman also is the only WSU campus to provide health care services on campus.

That number for the Spokane campus has since increased to 63%. Of those who have turned in their information, 96% have submitted proof of vaccination, the highest percentage of any WSU campus, Weiler said.

“Given the fact that all of the other campuses are in the 60-66% range, that to me seems to indicate that it’s a matter of not having the same amount of time to upload their records and learning a new system,” he said. “There’s a learning process, and I think sometimes people put off something that they haven’t done before.”

Elsewhere in Spokane, Gonzaga University has reported an approximately 91% overall campus vaccination rate to date.

That includes 5,810 of 6,192 students (93.8%) who are fully vaccinated, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard, with another 2% in the process and 4% seeking exemptions. Approximately 88% (1,493 of 1,695) of Gonzaga’s employees are fully vaccinated; 6% have sought an exemption, according to the data.

“We are overwhelmed by our students’ commitment to come back to campus vaccinated,” Charlita Shelton, chief of staff to President Thayne McCulloh and Gonzaga’s COVID-19 compliance officer, said in an email.

At Whitworth University, 1,917 of 2,304 (83.2%) matriculated day students have attested they are fully vaccinated. Another 299 (approximately 12.8%) have sought exemptions. The remaining 88 are noncompliant.

Students who have not complied with the school’s vaccine requirement cannot attend in-person classes, said Randy Michaelis, dean of continuing studies and graduate admissions. Michaelis, who has led Whitworth’s COVID-19 Response Team, said the President’s Cabinet made the decision around mid-August.

“We’re small enough where we can do this, and the number of students who are noncompliant are small enough so that we can individually reach out to them,” Michaelis said.

With enforcement, the Community Colleges of Spokane have taken an approach similar to WSU’s, requiring students to attest to their vaccination status in order to register for winter quarter classes, while employees are also bound to the state’s Oct. 18 deadline.

“We will support our employees’ individual decisions and help them implement that decision consistent with the proclamation,” Greg Stevens, CCS chief strategy officer, said in a statement, referring to the state mandate. “That could include separation of employment after October 18th, if they have chosen that option. We value every employee of CCS and hope that will not be necessary.”

As of Wednesday, CCS had verified the attestation status for 974 out of 1,940 active employees (50.2%), including work-study students and volunteers, according to data provided by CCS. Of the 940, 115 have sought exemptions.

Meanwhile, 1,893 out of 6,524 enrolled Spokane Community College students (29%) have attested; 18% have submitted vaccination information, while 11% are seeking an exemption. At Spokane Falls Community College, 1,287 out of 3,747 enrolled students (34.3%) have attested, including 24% who have received at least one dose of the vaccine to date.

“We anticipate the number of students who complete the attestation to rise dramatically when classes begin on Monday,” said SCC President Kevin Brockbank.

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