Message from President Tracy Fitzsimmons
Dear students, faculty and staff,
As we look forward to the Fall 2021 semester, I’d like to share the crucial role that COVID-19 vaccines will play in our in-person university operations to protect students and employees, contribute to achieving herd immunity, help to prevent serious illness and hospitalization among the members of our community, and limit the spread of COVID-19 variants. We believe that widespread vaccination among students, faculty and staff is the only way to facilitate a return to vibrant campus life that resembles Fall 2019 and not Fall 2020.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Shenandoah faculty, staff and students have worked diligently to keep our community as safe as possible through a myriad of measures, including online learning through ShenFlex, asymptomatic surveillance testing, our Personal Conduct and Social Distancing Policy, the Shenandoah Go app, and the mass-vaccination clinic at our Wilkins Athletics & Events Center.
All of these measures and thoughtful preventative actions allowed Shenandoah to remain operating in person and our teaching and learning to remain uninterrupted, which provided continuity during a very chaotic and challenging time. As we look toward Fall 2021, we need to adapt our actions and policies to ensure that we are doing all that we can to keep our students, faculty and staff as safe as possible. As a university, it is our responsibility to meet this challenge head-on and implement policy changes that mitigate the risks to each other and to the local communities.
We recognize that some in our community are hesitant to get a COVID-19 vaccine because, to date, the vaccines have only received emergency use authorization from the FDA (rather than full approval). Therefore, Shenandoah is not, at this time, requiring all faculty, staff and students to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Instead, SU is requiring that individuals within certain groups — those who have high levels of contact with others at the university or pose a greater risk to our community — be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 by August 1 for Fall 2021 or have at least the first dose by June 1 for groups that will be in person this summer (with full vaccination following as soon as possible), unless they have an SU-approved medical or religious exemption.
Once the COVID-19 vaccines have full FDA approval, which could be as soon as this fall, we expect to require vaccination of all faculty, staff and students. If those who are required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine now aren’t fully compliant by August 1, they will no longer be eligible to work or study at SU (unless they have a SU-approved medical or religious exemption).
It’s not just about your individual health; it’s about the health of everyone around you.
The groups required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by August 1 for Fall 2021 due to their high-contact personal interactions, their ability to cause major spread on their campus and in the general population if exposed and, in some cases, their interactions with vulnerable populations, are:
- All students living in university housing
- President, vice presidents, and deans
- All students, coaches and staff involved in both university-sponsored (NCAA) athletics and intramural sports activities
- All students, faculty and staff involved in any music, theatre, dance or other group practice, rehearsal, ensemble or performance, whether for a class, a co-curricular activity, or a public event (this includes SCAA staff and teachers)
- All nursing/pharmacy/health professions/music therapy students, faculty and staff who a) are in-person for teaching, studying or clinical rotations or b) interact in person with individuals in (a)
- All students doing in-person student-teaching
- All Department of Public Safety (DPS) employees
- Anyone working/volunteering in SU’s Childcare Center
- Anyone working in/with student housing
- All employees working in-person at the Wilkins Wellness Center and Counseling Center
- Any student, faculty or staff member traveling on university-sponsored or university-supported group or individual travel
- All students who are serving as Hornet Ambassadors, Orientation Leaders, Resident Advisors or FYS Mentors
- Anyone that regularly works with visitors, including Brandt Student Center (BSC) Info Desk employees, BSC staff, Student Financial Services staff, and all Admissions employees
- Food services employees
- All students participating in university-sponsored internships and select volunteer opportunities
We estimate that vaccinating the individuals in these groups will result in at least 80% of the undergraduate population, 90% percent of the full-time graduate population attending in-person classes, and 85% of employees to be vaccinated by the beginning of the fall semester (assuming the COVID-19 vaccines are still under emergency use authorization). The actual number of vaccinated individuals on campus will likely be even higher as many of the students and employees who do not fall into one of the required groups have already been vaccinated voluntarily.
The populations outlined above will be asked about their COVID-19 vaccine status and be required to show proof of vaccination prior to arrival on campus for the fall semester. More specific information about the submission process will be sent shortly.
As is true every semester, all students are required to have medical insurance, specific immunizations and a completed health form on file at the Wilkins Wellness Center prior to registration (if enrolled in 7 credit hours or more). Students admitted to the School of Nursing, School of Pharmacy, School of Health Professions (Physician Assistant Studies, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, and Athletic Training) in addition to the Music Therapy program must provide evidence of specific immunizations prior to the applicable date set forth on the Health and Insurance Requirements for Health Professions Students form.
Students enrolled in fully online programs or remote employees who are not required to come to campus may be exempt from vaccination. Please also note that SU will consider requests for an exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine requirement for medical or religious reasons. We will share with you early next week how to apply for a medical or religious exemption, and a description of the evaluation/approval process.
Students, faculty and staff who do not receive a COVID-19 vaccine because SU has approved their request for a medical or religious exemption will be required to undergo weekly COVID-19 surveillance testing (and other requirements may also apply) starting in August. We know you will have questions and will want more details about how this new policy will be implemented, and we will provide specifics in the coming weeks.
The Office of the Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Virginia issued an opinion statement April 26, 2021 that “colleges and universities may take steps to protect the health and welfare of their students by conditioning attendance in various activities or settings on the receipt of an approved COVID-19 vaccine” and noted that no federal law prohibits Virginia universities from imposing such a requirement.
While only the groups outlined above are required to get vaccinated at this time, SU continues to encourage everyone to get vaccinated for COVID-19 in anticipation of full FDA approval of the vaccine so we can begin to return to pre-pandemic operations.
This decision was made so that Shenandoah can return to all in-person classes and activities this fall and do so in an environment that is as safe as possible. Depending on state and national guidelines, this measure will likely also allow us to relax many of our current COVID-19 restrictions relating to mask-wearing and social distancing, but we won’t be making many of those final determinations until July.
As we move into the summer, please know that SU reserves the right to alter our position on COVID-19 vaccines as guidelines change or new information becomes available.
Thank you for understanding and compliance — SU is strong and safe because of its students, faculty, and staff. Let’s keep it that way.