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New COVID-19 guidance calls for all Illinois college students to be vaccinated

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Weber Arch at Northwestern University

Weber Arch at Northwestern University in Evanston on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020. coronavirus, COVID-19 (Jose M. Osorio/ Chicago Tribune)

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Illinois higher education officials are urging all colleges and universities to require students get vaccinated ahead of returning to campus next month for in-person learning in the wake of new federal guidance on vaccinations in school settings.

The joint guidance from the Illinois Board of Higher Education and the Illinois Community College Board was prompted by recently updated recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stressing the importance of university vaccine requirements.

“This guidance follows recommendations by the (CDC) and the Illinois Department of Public Health to ensure students can safely return to campus this fall,” Ginger Ostro, executive director of the IBHE, said in a statement.

Vaccination is “the leading prevention strategy against COVID-19 and all public and private universities are strongly encouraged to require vaccination (with appropriate exemptions) to protect campus populations and slow COVID-19 transmission in surrounding communities,” higher education officials said in the guidance.

The guidance does not address what would constitute an appropriate exemption, instead leaving it up to the schools to make those determinations.

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In addition to urging the state’s colleges and universities to “provide information to promote vaccine trust and confidence and address vaccine hesitancy,” officials said unvaccinated people and those who need to take extra precautions should “continue to wear a face covering and, where feasible, maintain physical distance while indoors.”

While many of the state’s colleges and universities have in recent weeks announced masks will be optional in the fall for those who are vaccinated, state officials encouraged support for “individuals who choose to wear a face covering whether they are vaccinated or unvaccinated.”

At the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, spokesperson Robin Neal Kaler said Tuesday that while students who attended summer school were required to wear masks in the classroom, face coverings will be optional in the fall for those who are vaccinated.

Students are being encouraged to upload their vaccination cards via the university’s app prior to their arrival on campus next month, Kaler said, adding that officials at the university’s health center are strictly following federal privacy laws to protect students’ confidential medical information.

“We’re requiring all students to be vaccinated by this fall, and that is our focus,” Kaler said.

“Science is showing us that that vaccines are the best way to protect our students,” she added.

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At Northwestern University in Evanston, all students — including exchange and visiting students — are required to have their vaccination or exception on record to participate in on-campus programs for the 2021-22 academic year, according to the university’s website.

Last month, officials at the university announced it is also requiring all faculty and staff who work on campus to be fully vaccinated by Aug. 1.

Those who are not fully vaccinated, regardless of the reason, are still required to continue masking indoors, “in alignment with guidance from the public health agencies,” officials said.

“While masks are no longer required for those who are vaccinated, many will choose to continue wearing a mask for their own personal comfort, and the community is expected to support their choices,” officials said.

Students at DePaul University are required to be vaccinated for COVID-19 when the 2021-22 academic year begins, and must submit proof of vaccination prior to the start of classes in the fall, according to the university’s website.

A recurring clash between the government's top infectious disease doctor and a U.S. senator has erupted again on Capitol Hill, with each accusing the other of lying. Dr. Anthony Fauci angrily confronted Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky in testimony before a Senate committee. Fauci rejected Paul's insinuation that the U.S. helped fund research at a Chinese lab that could have sparked the COVID-19 outbreak. Fauci spoke to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, saying a study the senator mentioned referenced a different sort of virus entirely from the one responsible for the coronavirus outbreak.

Those on campus who are fully vaccinated “will be highly encouraged — though not required — to wear a face mask indoors,” according to the website.

“De Paul University is closely monitoring CDC/IDPH for updated guidance and as new information is made available, the university will update its COVID-19 guidelines based on their guidance,” university spokesman Russell Dorn said in a Tuesday statement.

Despite the new guidance, not all colleges plan to ease mask requirements. Officials at several south suburban community colleges, including South Suburban in South Holland and Moraine Valley in Palos Hills, said earlier this month that masks will be required regardless of vaccination status.

Meanwhile, earlier this week a federal judge upheld Indiana University’s vaccine requirement after eight students students sued the university because of its vaccination mandate and extra requirements of masking, testing, and social distancing for those who receive an exemption.

“Recognizing the students’ significant liberty to refuse unwanted medical treatment, the Fourteenth Amendment permits Indiana University to pursue a reasonable and due process of vaccination in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty, and staff,” Judge Damon Leichty of the U.S. District Court for Northern Indiana wrote in the 101-page ruling.


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