Updated: August 09, 2021 06:40 PM
Created: August 09, 2021 03:34 PM
Students across the University of Minnesota System will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine once it is fully approved by federal regulators, the university announced Monday.
The update is a reversal of the system's previous decision not to require vaccines this fall. The U of M said last week it would require masks for everyone inside buildings on campus and in outdoor spaces where social distancing is not possible.
"And while we share excitement and optimism for an incredible in-person, on-campus fall semester, we must also remain vigilant in our ongoing fight against the COVID-19 pandemic," U of M President Joan Gable said in a systemwide email. "We share your concern over the recent delta variant spike and increase in positive cases in our state and across the country. Your health and wellness remain our top priority, as is ensuring that we are together this fall."
Once the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gives full approval for the COVID-19 vaccine — a step White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said could come in a matter of weeks — the shot will be added to the list of required immunizations for all students. Currently, the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines all have emergency use approval from the FDA.
Monday's announcement comes amid pressure from faculty to issue a vaccine mandate and as other private colleges around the state move to require the vaccine for students. Saint Mary's University, like the U of M, said it would wait for full FDA approval before making the COVID-19 vaccine compulsory.
Faculty and staff will either have to confirm they are vaccinated or undergo regular testing if they are unvaccinated; they will not be required to get the shot. Anyone who is exposed to the virus or tests positive will have to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for isolating and contact tracing.
All of this comes as the CDC and Minnesota Department of Health report that 70 of Minnesota's 87 counties now have either "substantial" or "high" rates of COVID-19 transmission. That triggers a recommendation from the CDC for indoor mask usage in those 70 counties making up about 80% of Minnesota.
"We are in a new place with the delta variant," said Kris Ehresmann, MDH director of Infectious Diseases. "Things have really changed, the landscape has changed. It's not the same as things were a year ago. Delta is far more infectious. We're seeing much greater transmission and so the recommendation is that if you are in an area that falls into those high levels of transmission CDC recommends masking."
However, Ehresmann said the state is not yet discussing limiting crowd sizes at gatherings like weddings or other social or professional gatherings.
Charles Eide, of Eidecom Media and Events in Minneapolis, says he still recommends people planning weddings or other events have a "Plan B," including a virtual option.
"You can provide that for free to them," Eide said of the virtual option. "And then, of course, for people who want to come and gather, they can make that choice on their own and come out and have a great wedding ceremony or reception and enjoy a good time with you."
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