College mandates vaccines and indoor masks

Campus Ministries at the College of William and Mary allows for religious groups to collaborate. Jamie Holt / The Flat Hat

July 29, 2021, William and Mary’s COVID Response Team announced that the College would be requiring the COVID-19 vaccination for all students, faculty and staff who do not have an appropriate exemption. The announcement also stated that 77% of students and 75% of employees had identified themselves as fully vaccinated, but the rate has now risen to 97% of faculty and 93% of students as of Aug. 23. 

For students and staff without appropriate exemption status who refuse to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the repercussions are significant. According to the College’s principles and processes, these students will be administratively withdrawn, which means they are disenrolled from courses and are barred from living in on-campus housing. Staff who refuse to get vaccinated will be placed on unpaid leave and may be fired. 

This announcement followed an email from July 26, which stated that the College was reconsidering its fall 2021 operations plans after only 56.2% of students and 72.2% of employees reported that they were fully vaccinated. The low rates of reported vaccinations sparked a cry for action among students to upload their vaccination status to the Kallaco portal.

Students quickly turned to social media and flooded their instagram stories with graphics from student-run accounts such as @wmstudentassembly and @covid_campus_coalition_wm which detailed how to upload proof of vaccination into the campus portal. These efforts drastically improved the vaccination rate of the College’s students, as the rate climbed to 77% on July 29, according to the Director of the CRT and COO of the College Amy Sebring.

The William and Mary community has responded well,” Sebring wrote in an email. “Over 90% of students and close to 90% of employees are fully vaccinated and many others are in the process of becoming fully vaccinated.”

The William and Mary community has responded well,” Sebring wrote in an email. “Over 90% of students and close to 90% of employees are fully vaccinated and many others are in the process of becoming fully vaccinated.”

The vaccine mandate applies to all students and staff who do not have a medical or religious exemption. All international students unable to receive the vaccine in their home country will receive aid from the College in order to receive their vaccines upon arrival to campus. The deadline for students and staff to receive and report the first dose of the vaccine passed Aug. 10. The deadline for the second dose is Sept. 17. 

Aug. 9, the College also announced that students, faculty and staff would need to wear masks in shared indoor spaces. When asked about the update to masking indoors, Sebring said it had much to do with the emerging delta variant of COVID-19.

“Going into the summer, the Public Health Advisory Team and COVID-19 Response Team anticipated that we would not need to wear masks this semester,” Sebring wrote. “Unfortunately, that was before the delta variant took hold. In the last month, we’ve needed to reverse that, requiring all community members to put masks back on in shared public spaces. The shift back to masks indoors is happening everywhere, not just William & Mary.” 

Through the end of September, students, faculty and staff will be required to wear masks in all classrooms, labs, residence hall common areas, indoor hallways and shared offices. The mandate will be reevaluated by Oct. 1 based on the existing public health guidelines. Masks are not required outdoors. 

“We have much to be optimistic about this year, even as we constantly evaluate and re-evaluate appropriate public health responses,” Sebring wrote. “We have vaccines, a high rate of vaccination in our community, all the things that worked in our favor last year and a much greater understanding of the long-term challenges we face together. I am always respectful and watchful of COVID, but I’m even more confident in our students and community.” Sebring.

Vice President of Student Affairs Ginger Ambler shared the same optimism as Sebring. 

As a highly vaccinated community this fall, the experience on campus will feel more ‘regular,’ with in-person classes across campus, robust student club and organization activity, residence hall living that includes the ability to visit friends in other dorms, and traditions we have missed like Opening Convocation,” Ambler wrote in an email.

Ambler works on the Student Affairs side of the COVID-19 Response Team. She noted that her and the CRT work hard to answer all the questions that inevitably follow team updates. 

If the pandemic has taught me anything, it is to appreciate those things I surely took for granted before – the opportunity to eat out with friends, to attend a live musical performance, to gather freely with others, to go shopping, to hug a friend, to enjoy chance encounters while walking across campus,” Ambler wrote. “This semester will have its own unique character.  It may still be ‘different’ in some ways, but it will be wonderful in so many other ways.  Let us be mindful of the moments we’ll share this year. We have waited a long time for this semester to come.”

On the student operations side, Student Assembly President Meghana Boojala ’22 fielded questions, concerns and praise from students throughout the summer regarding the COVID-19 guideline updates. 

“During the summer, we received overwhelming feedback that students and parents were in support of the vaccine mandate,” Boojala wrote in an email. “In fact, when the school was pushing for vaccination reporting, we received significant feedback asking us to advocate for a mandate. Due to ambiguity regarding vaccination reporting statistics and the delta variant, the vaccine mandate definitely eased a lot of the concerns we were receiving. The indoor mask mandate was also generally supported by students.”

“During the summer, we received overwhelming feedback that students and parents were in support of the vaccine mandate,” Boojala wrote in an email. “In fact, when the school was pushing for vaccination reporting, we received significant feedback asking us to advocate for a mandate. Due to ambiguity regarding vaccination reporting statistics and the delta variant, the vaccine mandate definitely eased a lot of the concerns we were receiving. The indoor mask mandate was also generally supported by students.”

As this fall semester progresses, administration, SA, students and staff have to be prepared to adapt to the unpredictable COVID-19 virus. 

“Moving forward, we are hoping to work with the administration to understand whether further guidelines will be necessary,” Boojala wrote.

 

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