Across some California State University campuses, tens of thousands of students and staff have already submitted proof that they're vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Systemwide, the deadline to submit proof is Sept. 30. But with fall classes resuming as early as next week at some universities, with many more courses offered in-person compared to last fall, some CSUs have earlier deadlines. Some campuses have set their own deadlines and requirements so CSU staff and students should check with their campuses.
Students and staff who can't meet these deadlines, or receive exemptions, face weekly tests. Or, if they refuse testing, students could be removed or dropped from residential halls or in-person classes.
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At Cal State Fullerton, more than 20,000 students and faculty have uploaded their vaccination records to a third-party database the university is using to track and keep medical records confidential. As of July 20, the campus has registered nearly 38,000 students in fall classes, including those that will be fully remote. Classes resume in Fullerton on Aug. 21 and students and faculty have until Aug. 17 to notify the campus that they've at least received their first vaccination dose.
"We're almost at 80% of our staff and faculty, even though the faculty have been out for most of the summer, submitting their records which is incredible," said Ellen Treanor, associate vice president of strategic communications for the Fullerton campus. "People have been incredibly responsive, so that's been great."
CSU required COVID-19 vaccines for all faculty, staff and students to access campuses on July 27. Chancellor Joseph Castro had intended to wait until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to any one existing vaccine, but made the announcement early because of the delta variant and the surge of Covid cases nationally and in California.
Requiring college students to be immunized before coming to campus isn't new. The CSU, like most public institutions, already requires immunization against diseases like measles, Hepatitis B and varicella, more commonly known as chickenpox, for enrollment to its 23 campuses.
Mary Frances Di Maggio, a rising senior at San Francisco State University, felt immense relief after the CSU system's vaccine requirement was announced. Before the mandate, Di Maggio considered not returning to campus for in-person classes due to the risks of being exposed to unvaccinated individuals.
"I don't see a reason not to get the COVID vaccine if you're able to," Di Maggio said, "I believe in vaccines and think they're required for a reason -- to keep you safe."
At San Francisco State, classes resume Aug. 23 and students and unrepresented staff are required to submit their vaccination records by Aug. 13. The deadline varies for unionized workers, depending on their bargaining unit.
The university expects to average about 9,800 students on campus this fall Monday through Thursday, said Kent Bravo, a spokesman for the university, adding that 39% of nearly 5,000 classes will have an in-person component. The campus typically enrolls about 30,000 students each year.
People who submit a partial vaccination record, for example, to prove that they've had one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, but not the second dose have until Sept. 10 to show they're fully vaccinated, he said. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one dose.
At San Diego State University, as of July 30, more than 25,000 students, faculty and staff have already uploaded their completed vaccination records to the university's online health portal. The campus gave students and staff the ability to do this voluntarily starting in January, said Libby Skiles, San Diego State's director of student health services. The campus is urging students, faculty and staff to submit completed Covid-19 vaccination records by Aug. 16.
This fall, campus officials expect to average about 29,000 students on-campus in person, with about 86% of about 5,100 classes offering a face-to-face component.
The San Diego campus also anticipates about 6,000 students moving into its residential halls with the fall term starting Aug. 20. At the height of the pandemic last year, the campus only hosted about 2,470 students, well below its 7,500 pre-pandemic capacity.
"We are optimistic about the direction we're heading with our vaccination numbers," Skiles said. "We know it's the best protection against Covid and the best method for helping us to stop the spread of these variants."
CSU students and staff who qualify for medical and religious exemptions, or are not fully vaccinated, will have to participate in weekly Covid-19 testing if they want to access their campuses in-person.
Although the collection and certification process will vary from campus to campus, the CSU chancellor's office has developed an online system universities can use to allow students to self-certify or seek exemption. Campuses can also ask students and staff to provide additional information like a copy of their Covid-19 vaccination record card.
For international students, "as we are trying to have the most inclusive policy possible, a vaccination that received World Health Organization approval would meet the requirement," said Mike Uhlenkamp, a CSU spokesman.
Although most students have been eager to get vaccinated and submit their records to their campuses, some still oppose the new requirements.
Arlene Guerrero, 22, is a rising senior at Cal State Long Beach and does not plan to get vaccinated.
Guerrero, a journalism major, has already registered for the fall 2021 term but won't be allowed to take in-person classes without being vaccinated, which means she may have to delay her return to college and her graduation date.
"I was excited and enrolled in two in-person classes," said Guerrero, who was registered to take classes in TV news production and bilingual magazine reporting. "As soon as my enrollment date came, I made sure I had those classes. But now I can't even take them."
Guerrero says that her reluctance to roll up her sleeve to receive the shot stems from stories she has heard about family members who contracted Covid-19 despite being vaccinated, also known as breakthrough cases. She also pointed to what turns out to be misinformation that vaccines have been recalled. (To date, the three vaccines being distributed in the United States have not been recalled. They are recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And a report released last week from the Kaiser Family Foundation found more than 94% of reported Covid-19 cases occurred in unvaccinated people.)
To protect herself from getting Covid-19, Guerrero said she is being careful to wear a mask whenever in public and washes and sanitizes her hands constantly. However, she thinks safety protocols should largely be self-regulated and doesn't believe that the CSU system should require people to receive the vaccine.
For Guerrero, the vaccine requirement makes her feel even more excluded from a campus she has yet to step foot on. She transferred from Long Beach City College to Cal State Long Beach during the fall 2020 semester, and so far, her time at the university has been limited to online classes due to the pandemic.
Gerardo Hernandez, a rising freshman at Humboldt State, is vaccinated but said CSU's vaccine requirements infringe upon college students' freedom of choice at the expense of their education.
"I am more against the mandate than the actual vaccine. People have called me an anti-vaxxer, but that's not the case," Hernandez said. "I believe in vaccines, I am 100 percent pro-vaccines, but when it comes to new vaccines, such as the Covid-19 vaccine, I understand how some individuals might feel unsure about getting it."
Hernandez said he chose to get vaccinated because his household consists of family members with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes.
He hopes that the CSU system continues to enforce social distancing measures despite the mandate. Hernandez expects to see hand sanitizing stations throughout each CSU campus, mask regulations, and hopes each campus can eventually have a vaccination center to provide access for those looking to get vaccinated.
As for students who may want to switch to a fully online class schedule to avoid weekly testing or vaccinations, they may have a difficult time finding the courses they need.
"I hope that we have the classes available but we're not having options for 100% of classes to be online," said Treanor, speaking of the Fullerton campus, which plans to have about 65% of classes in-person this fall. "Some of the upper-division classes are not available online, so that is a concern for us and we're trying to figure out how do we work around that."
There could be other consequences for students on campuses who don't submit vaccination records and choose not to participate in weekly testing. If a student doesn't show up for their weekly Covid-19 test on the Fullerton campus, Treanor said they'll receive a letter requesting they do so within 24 hours. If they don't respond, they could be locked out of their residence hall or their classes, she said. The campus will provide testing to keep track of students and staff, so they won't be allowed to submit testing from other sources.
Campus administrators are examining "what exactly progressive discipline looks like for someone who violates," the rules, Treanor said.
But ultimately, the majority of students seem to welcome the vaccination requirements and are eager to return to in-person classes, she said.
Shayna Sanders, a senior at CSU Dominguez Hills, believes sacrifices are necessary in order to protect herself and others because she personally knows of a half-dozen people who have passed away due to Covid-19 complications, including her 24-year-old cousin who suffered from an underlying heart condition.
"I was pretty scared in the beginning," Sanders said. "I wanted to make sure that before I make this decision, I know what's in the vaccine. I listened to people who took it and to the doctors … I feel like it's kind of our part as a community to protect each other during these tough times."
She added: "My body, my choice," is something Sanders supports wholeheartedly, but as Covid-19 cases surge due to the delta variant, she feels there is a bigger issue at hand.
"I feel like it is the safest route to make the vaccine somehow mandatory because it's killing us at a rapid rate and this is a global thing," Sanders said. "I'm pretty sure nobody thought this was going to happen, but we're here now, and we have to make the right moves. Too many people are dying, so I completely understood the mandatory vaccines that would be put in place."
This story was originally published by EdSource.
Taylor Helmes, Iman Palm and Briana Munoz contributed to this story. Helmes is a recent graduate from California State University, Dominguez Hills; Palm from California State University, Long Beach and Munoz from Cal State, Los Angeles. All were fellows with EdSource's California Student Journalism Corps.