Central Michigan University students, staff must be vaccinated or test weekly

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Central Michigan University announced Thursday that all students, faculty and staff must either provide proof of full COVID-19 vaccination by Sept. 3 or begin participating in weekly testing for the virus. 

Previously, the Mount Pleasant university had encouraged students, faculty and staff to get vaccinated but had not set any requirements. The school also announced it would require face masks to be worn indoors.

The announcement comes just more than a week before classes begin and was prompted by the delta variant, CMU President Robert Davies wrote in a letter to the university community. 

"Every university needs to make decisions based on its own unique circumstances and characteristics and what's going on with its faculty, students and staff as well as the community environment," Davies said in an interview with The Detroit News. "This is what fit the best for Central Michigan University, to provide the option of going through weekly testing or being vaccinated."

A recent survey of the CMU community showed that 34% of students have gotten vaccinated, compared to 59.5% of residents statewide and 38.4% of Michigan residents ages 16-19 year-olds.

Coronavirus-related signage throughout the campus of Central Michigan University on Aug. 13, 2020. On Thursday, Aug. 19, 2020 the college announced that all students, faculty and staff must either provide proof of full COVID-19 vaccination by Sept. 3 or begin participating in weekly testing for the virus.

Weekly testing for students who are unvaccinated will be paid for by the university, Davies said. The school is also offering vaccines for free, Davies said in his letter.

In Isabella County, where CMU is located, 46% of residents have been vaccinated, according to the Michigan COVID-19 dashboard.

"We will continue to push and to support vaccines, to help educate our students and our faculty and our staff and the community at large about the importance of vaccination," said Davies, who said he has been vaccinated. "But we also know individuals have different opinions, thoughts, based on many factors about the vaccine. Our goal, as we have learned over the past year, is that options are very helpful in navigating the COVID-19 (virus), and specifically with the delta variant."

CMU is the latest state university to change its COVID-19 policies this summer, but the school stopped short of issuing a vaccine mandate.

Michigan State, Wayne State and Grand Valley State universities as well as the University of Michigan are requiring students, faculty and staff to get a vaccine, barring an exemption for medical or religious reasons. Oakland University and Eastern Michigan University are requiring vaccines for students living in dorms; Western Michigan University is required testing for all unvaccinated students, faculty and staff for the fall term.

The remaining public universities are doing what CMU was doing until Thursday: Encouraging students to get vaccinated.

The delta variant has spread to Isabella County, where CMU is located, and is growing, said Steve Hall, a health officer with the Central Michigan District Health Department. State health officials alerted the county to four cases of people infected with the variant in Clare and Isabella counties. The number of COVID cases, which are almost all delta variant cases, has since grown to 60 cases, Hall said.

CMU's new policy follows an emergency meeting on Monday of the university's Academic Senate, which passed a resolution encouraging Davies to mandate the vaccine for the campus community.

Thursday's announcement disappointed many faculty members who passed the resolution.

Martha Frank, a CMU associate math professor who wrote the language of the resolution, said disappointed in the decision after all their hard work in lobbying the administration.

"I don't feel safe," Frank said. "My students are not going to feel safe. I was hoping for a lot more. I thought maybe the president would listen to us this time. He didn't."

Davies said he listened to many voices and understands not everyone is going to be happy with the decision.

"Many individuals have different thoughts about the vaccine," Davies said. "We are an educational institution, first and foremost, and so we took that as a key component to accept different individuals with different viewpoints in terms of their religious, cultural or other dimensions and provide them options to continue their educational experiences."