WSU to require COVID-19 vaccines for students living in dorms

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Less than five weeks before students move back to Wayne State University, officials said Monday that residents of its dorms will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

WSU President M. Roy Wilson made the announcement in an email that accompanied results from an online survey showing 86% of respondents reported being vaccinated. Those who responded included 9,106 people, a 29.5% response rate out of the 30,853 members of the campus community. There were 23,052 students enrolled during winter semester.

"We are mindful of the particular risks of congregate living," Wilson wrote. "Therefore, we are implementing a targeted mandate for students living in university housing for the fall 2021 semester ... This targeted mandate — which is similar to those implemented by several Michigan universities — will help protect those who live in close proximity to each other.

"It will also help us prevent spread of the virus on our campus while allowing students to interact and engage face to face — a vital part of the college experience," Wilson added. 

WSU is gearing up for students to move back to campus during the last week of August as scores of people remain hesitant to get the vaccine and COVID-19 cases are increasing, particularly among those who are unvaccinated. Classes begin Sept. 1.

The vaccine mandate for students living in the dorms follows University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Oakland University, which announced mandatory vaccines four months ago for students living in campus dorms and it does not leave not much time for WSU students to get vaccinated before move-in during the last week of August. UM's Ann Arbor campus set a deadline for students to provide proof of vaccination by July 15.

UM-Dearborn has announced tougher rules: students, faculty and staff returning for the fall semester must either provide documentation that they have received a COVID-19 vaccine or evidence of a weekly negative PCR test.

WSU's mandate comes as the Delta variant of the virus is spreading among those who are unvaccinated and after colleges were hotbeds for the virus’ spread last fall.

Wilson wrote Monday that more information, including how to provide proof of vaccination, would be forthcoming "in the near future."

WSU has told students they would make a decision by July about whether a vaccine would be required for students living in the dorms based on case trends, said Laurie Lauzon Clabo, WSU's campus chief health and wellness officer.

"We felt we couldn't wait any longer," said Clabo, who is also dean of the College of Nursing. "The timing is always tough. We believe we acted responsibility."

WSU is following COVID case numbers in the city and state, and two surveys were done to assess the percentage of those vaccinated. While the number of people in the WSU community who have gotten the vaccine is good, Clabo said, the lowest level of uptake is among undergraduate students.

Another survey of those living in WSU residence halls showed "overwhelming" support for a mandate, Clabo added.

WSU, she said, will work with students if they are not fully vaccinated by move-in, which begins Aug. 26.

Individuals are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the second does in a two-series shot, such as Pfizer or Moderna, or a one-dose shot, such as Johnson & Johnson, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Among those who responded to WSU's anonymous online survey, 81% of undergraduates and 91% of graduates reported being fully vaccinated.

Among those not likely to get vaccinated, the WSU survey found, included 8.9% of students and 4.9% of employees. Undergraduate students represented the largest segment of those hesitant to get vaccinated, the survey found. 

WSU's survey was conducted twice; in May and a second time between July 7 through July 16.

In April, Wayne State offered students a $10 credit to use toward a meal on or off campus as an incentive to get vaccinated.