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COVID-19 testing remains essential amid confusing student vaccination requirements

June 1, 2021

This fall, colleges across the US will be welcoming students back to campus for the first time in a post-vaccine world. And while many schools are adopting some form of vaccination requirements for new and returning students, these policies remain fragmented, often confusing, and challenging to enforce. Against this backdrop, it’s vitally important for colleges to supplement their vaccine requirements with robust on-demand testing -- and they need to move fast in the process.

To better understand the need for testing, we should first take a look at the tangle of policies that exist around student vaccinations: 

States don’t agree.

Presently, 6 states require that students be vaccinated before returning to campus, 12 expressly forbid such requirements, and the rest are letting schools decide on their own. Texas, for example, entirely prevents public schools from mandating vaccines, but private institutions can do so at their own discretion. Just as confusingly, In most states it’s possible to request an exemption from vaccine requirements on religious grounds, but public institutions in New York aren’t allowed to honor such requests.

Not all hardest-hit areas share requirements.

New York and California, both of which saw significant COVID-19 numbers, require vaccines, but other significant pandemic hotspots, including Alabama, Arizona, Florida, and Georgia do not. According to an NBC News analysis of 400 colleges with vaccination requirements, over half of such schools are in the Northeast, while only 51 are in the South.

Exemptions are widely (but inconsistently) available.

While New York disallows religious exemptions, the majority of states do not. Nearly 75% of colleges requiring the vaccine allow for some form of religious exemption for students.

Vaccine requirements aren’t for everyone on campus.

The above maze of requirements applies to students only. In many cases, faculty and staff are encouraged, but not required, to receive the vaccine. This is true even in states with near-universal student vaccine mandates like New York.

This level of inconsistency does more than create confusion -- it creates both real and perceived dangers that disrupt an institution’s educational mission. Unvaccinated students and faculty living and working in close proximity still have the potential to create COVID-19 hotspots, facilitate the incubation and spread of new COVID-19 variants, and even lead to rare breakthrough cases in their fully vaccinated peers. At the same time, students and educators who can’t be certain of the vaccination status of the people around them will be hard-pressed to focus on the teaching and learning that are, in the end, the actual purpose of attending college.

So what can colleges do to protect students and faculty from further outbreaks? It’s simple: testing. Reliable, accessible COVID-19 testing for students and faculty can serve as a hedge against inconsistent rules and a way to better protect those members of the campus community who elect not to be vaccinated for religious or medical reasons. What’s more, a solid on-campus testing infrastructure can provide peace of mind to the larger citywide communities surrounding these colleges. 

For this to be an effective strategy, though, an institution’s testing capabilities need to be best-in-class. In other words, they need to be fast, effective, scalable, and tailored to the specific characteristics and needs of each school. This is where Wellstand Health comes in: as the leader in helping educational institutions and other organizations deploy top-notch COVID-19 testing solutions, we have what it takes to ensure that your testing program will create the safest possible learning environment no matter your vaccination policies.

Want to learn more? Contact us.

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