CEDAR CITY — Earlier this week, Southern Utah University sent an email to students, faculty and staff to inform all parties that the university was considering a COVID-19 vaccination mandate.
SUU’s deliberations follow the announcement from the Utah State Board of Higher Education that university presidents now have the authority to enact a vaccination mandate. University of Utah, Utah State University, Weber State University and Utah Valley University have all adopted a vaccine requirement that will go into effect beginning in the spring.
As part of the decision-making process, the university announced five virtual forums to gather comments and address concerns from students and educators. The first of three forums for faculty and staff was held via Zoom on Tuesday, and the discussion was led by Interim President Mindy Benson and Provost Jon Anderson.
“We have the potential for a vaccine mandate and the ability to do so from the USHE system,” Benson said. “We want to vet this strongly as a campus. We want to make sure that we have reached out and heard voices … from students, faculty and staff.”
Reservations about the vaccine were a focal point for the discussion, with several participants offering explanations based on their own experiences and the accounts of their friends and associates. Others shared their personal struggles with COVID-19 and the harm that it caused them and their families, urging their colleagues and administration to enact the mandate.
Possible solutions or alternatives offered by other participants centered on increasing education resources to explain the COVID-19 vaccine. One idea suggested was to hold Q&A sessions to allow students to interrogate widespread misinformation and to invite medical and biochemical experts to share their expertise.
Faculty and staff also grappled with the issues related to instruction and course modalities – the way students participate in class – and whether face-to-face, online or hybrid structures should be emphasized over others.
Tasha Seegmiller, an English lecturer at SUU, said that some of the frustrations that educators feel comes from an administrative emphasis on going back to normal course instruction — including face to face classes — even though the circumstances of the pandemic might complicate those modalities. She said:
Part of teaching is that you’re going to have students who are sick. But this is a different kind of illness, with a different time frame of recovery. They (students) could potentially miss two full weeks of course information, and the modality that we’re teaching in might not lend itself to them getting an equal education. Students who sign up for face to face classes and then try to do it through Zoom only or online only don’t tend to fare as well.
Two more forums will be held for faculty and staff, one on Wednesday at 4 p.m. and another on Sept. 10 at 1 p.m. Two forums will be held for students, one on Sept. 13 at 4 p.m. and the next on Sept. 14 at 1 p.m.
COVID-19 Guidelines for SUU
In addition to announcing upcoming forums, the communication published by the university on Monday outlined the school’s most recent plan for COVID-19 precautions.
SUU encourages all members of the campus community to get vaccinated and plans to hold several vaccination clinics. The clinics will be held on-campus Sept. 14, Oct. 26, Nov. 9 and Dec. 7. More information about the location and times for the clinics will be shared at a later date.
The university also recently elevated its mask protocol from a “mask-friendly” to a “mask-recommended” campus response. While the campus will be open and in-person activities and events will be held, the use of masks is strongly recommended, especially while indoors.
“We have not seen a lot of spread (of COVID-19) in the classroom this year,” Anderson said. “That was, we believe, due to high mask usage, so we are going as far as we can to encourage masks. I think legally we’ve pushed about as far as we can to create a healthy, safe environment.”
While there were many cases of students and staff contracting COVID-19 in the past year, the cases were largely unrelated and there was only one case where multiple students in the same class fell ill at the same time, Anderson said. None of the students sat close to one another, and as a preventative measure the class was moved online until everyone had recovered.
For those who are sick or who think they may have been exposed to someone that later tested positive for COVID-19, the university has reopened its COVID testing center located in the parking lot of the J. Reuben Clark Center at 300 West University Boulevard.
The testing center resumed operations on Monday and is open from 8 a.m. to noon Monday–Friday. Members of the campus community can schedule their test using the form on the SUU website.
At least until a negative test result is received, everyone on campus is encouraged to self isolate and communicate with their teachers about their circumstances. In addition, all students, faculty and staff are asked to self-report their positive COVID-19 cases for use in contact tracing and to help the university track the spread of the disease on campus.
More information can be found on the central homepage for SUU’s coronavirus response.
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