Wayne State to require vaccinations for fall return to campus

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Wayne State University will require everyone on campus to be vaccinated against COVID-19 this fall and proof must be provided by Aug. 30 for students and staff to be allowed on campus, President M. Roy Wilson announced Tuesday.

The university will also require that masks be worn indoors at least through Sept. 15 amid a surge of cases linked to the delta variant and lagging vaccination rates.

"As we have from the beginning of the pandemic, we are today revising our campus response to respond to emerging evidence and local data," Wilson wrote to the campus community. "To best protect the health and safety of our campus community, Wayne State will require all students, faculty and staff who plan to be on campus during the fall semester to receive their COVID-19 vaccination."

The Old Main building on the campus of Wayne State University in Detroit. The college will require everyone on campus to be vaccinated against COVID-19 this fall and proof must be provided by Aug. 30 for students and staff to be allowed on campus, President M. Roy Wilson announced Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021.

Wilson noted that COVID-19 cases are increasing across the nation and positivity rates locally have grown recently from 2.4% to 3.3%. 

"The latest data regarding the delta variant is concerning," Wilson wrote. "This variant spreads more easily and may be transmitted by vaccinated individuals with rare breakthrough cases. Thankfully, the data also show that vaccines continue to be highly effective, particularly in protecting against serious illness, hospitalization and death." 

Wilson said those who violate the mandate will face repercussions but it was not immediately clear what those penalties might entail. WSU spokesman Ted Montgomery said the penalties are still being determined.

"We want to work with everyone," Montgomery said.

WSU joins a growing number of Michigan colleges and universities, including the University of Michigan and Michigan State, that are requiring vaccinations for their communities amid fears of the delta variant. Central Michigan University announced Monday that it would not require vaccination but would require masks on campus.

Wayne State's mandate is coming under fire from some students, including WSU graduate student Dan Smith.

"Mandating and telling people they have to get the vaccine is completely wrong," said Smith, a 27-year-old Northville native now living in Detroit. "People who decide to not get the vaccine or decide to wait should not be told they cannot get an education."

Smith said he is also concerned about filling out paperwork to enter buildings in an era of mandated vaccines.

"That is also another infringement against our liberties," Smith said.

Faculty at Wayne State and UM circulated petitions in the spring, asking administrators to require a coronavirus vaccine for students, faculty and staff to avoid outbreaks and promote safety.

At the time, state lawmakers attached language to proposed state appropriations for higher education that bans the state's 15 public universities from mandating the COVID-19 vaccine. Some regard the language as a potential threat to state funding to public universities, which plays a role in student tuition.

Daniel Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities, said the language is still in the House bill on higher education funding, which has not yet been resolved as part of the state budget. He suspected Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would veto it if it ever got to her desk. 

He also said the universities are taking steps to protect campus safety as the delta variant continues to spread and the fall semester looms.

"We are talking about the most substantive pandemic in a century,” Hurley said. “The university is going to do what they think is right to promote public health and safety.”

Wayne State students can submit proof of vaccination online, or submit a waiver request.

"Full vaccination of our campus community will eventually eliminate the need for masks and allow a renewed sense of normalcy in our interactions," Wilson wrote.

He added that beginning Tuesday through Sept. 15, masks will be required of everyone indoors until the university is more confident of overall vaccination status.

"At that point, we will revisit the mask requirement, and hopefully eliminate it," Wilson said. "Of course, masks will not be required if you are working alone in your office. We recognize that this is inconvenient, but it is temporary and, more important, safe."

The decision came one week after WSU had issued a mandate for all students living in campus housing to be vaccinated against the virus.

Wayne State will continue to have university-sanctioned activities, Wilson added, but plans will be required to have approval by the Campus Health Committee.

Visitors will also have to fill out a screening form, and anyone who is unvaccinated will not be allowed on campus.

Laurie Lauzon Clabo, WSU's campus chief health and wellness officer, said WSU has been watching the coronavirus cases statewide and locally, which are increasing.

"It is pointing in the wrong direction," said Clabo, who is also dean of the College of Nursing. "Our way out of the pandemic is a vaccinated population. We feel like we have to act in the best interests of our faculty students and staff to keep them safe."