Officials at colleges around Connecticut anticipate welcoming students back to fully reopened campuses for the fall semester without requiring them to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
“I think your colleges and universities around the state, we’re all in the same boat. We’re all looking forward to being open and accessible,” said Southern Connecticut State University President Joe Bertolino.
While Connecticut is not mandating that campus communities get vaccinated before they return for upcoming semesters, state leaders and universities — both public and private — are strongly encouraging that students do so.
Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday during a press conference that resuming in-person classes is a priority and that full reopenings are highly dependent on students and staff getting vaccinated for the coronavirus.
“We want everyone vaccinated on our college campuses,” Lamont said. “I wanna make sure you have 100% confidence that public health comes first and you can go back to school safely.”
Right now, some universities cannot require that students get the coronavirus vaccine because all three were pushed through emergency use authorization and are not licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, unlike the MMR vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella.
Wesleyan University and Yale University are currently the only colleges in the state that are requiring students to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 before returning for the fall. Other private schools like Trinity College in Hartford said they have yet to decide whether to require students to get the vaccine.
“Trinity is still working on its fall 2021 plans and [has] not finalized a decision regarding vaccination requirements at this time. We’re committed to a full re-opening in the fall and continue to plan toward that goal,” Trinity spokesperson Stacy Sneed said.
Public colleges like Central Connecticut State University said its staff will work on promoting vaccination. Efforts will include continuing on-site vaccination opportunities and “vaccination education” campaigns aimed at students and staff, according to CCSU spokesperson Janice Palmer.
“We are aware in talking to students and some staff who showed up to get vaccinated that sometimes their information is not spot on, thank you to social media,” Palmer said.
University officials are hoping to have the majority of classes resume in person in the fall. Bertolino said that at SCSU, he anticipates that about 75% of courses will return to the classroom in some form and that all staff will be back onsite. He also expects residence hall occupancy to increase “significantly.”
“Campuses have been safe on so many different levels. I think it’s a good time to go back to school,” Bertolino said.
University of Connecticut President Thomas Katsouleas wrote in an email to the school community that most fall classes will be in-person and that unvaccinated students will have the opportunity to get the vaccine upon their return to campus at the start of the fall semester.
“So there is still much work to do, but we believe we have good cause to be hopeful about our future,” Katsouleas said.
Colleges are also looking to tackle the transition from remote to in-person learning. At the University of St. Joseph in Hartford, President Rhona Free said a newly-developed, free in-person program this summer will allow high school students to brush up on skills that they feel they missed out on while doing virtual learning.
“We realized that for a lot of high school seniors, they have not felt that this was the best way to prepare them for going to college,” Free said. “We really wanted to reach out to those students.”
Campuses will still necessitate that students and staff follow safety protocols like mask-wearing and social distancing, but college leaders believe that in-person courses will bring back a sense of normalcy. Katie Kitchens, the director of student services and advising at the University of Hartford, said that there is a great excitement to get students back into classrooms.
“We’re hoping for the [fall] to be a normal, traditional experience,” Kitchens said. “Based on current trends, we’re heading in such a good and strong direction.”