HBCUs grapple with immunization mandates and COVID-19 prevention
Historically Black colleges and universities are grappling with whether to impose COVID-19 vaccinations this academic year, with the coronavirus continuing to spread at higher rates in communities of color.
Mandatory COVID testing for students is increasingly common at HBCUs, and some schools require vaccination of students and faculty on campus.
On a typical morning at Alabama State University, an HBCU in Montgomery where vaccinations aren’t mandatory but face blankets are, students might spot school president Quinton Ross patrolling the college buildings on campus.
“Being close and personal is what I do,” said Ross, a former K-12 educator. “And it’s a constant reminder because we all have to take that personal responsibility,” he said of his desire to set a good example by walking around in a mask.
Blacks make up 9.1% of fully vaccinated Americans, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and make up 12.4% of the nation’s population.
Historically, black colleges and universities – many of which are located in southern states and are seeing a sharp increase in cases – are implementing strict COVID-19 prevention protocols as they seek to keep campuses open and offer students a more normal experience this fall.
ASU has installed temperature monitoring machines at building entrances, conducts random tests on students, and uses drones spraying disinfectant to disinfect sports facilities. Ross said the school is also working with student leaders to provide immunization incentives.
“We looked at what the courts have done,” Ross said of the vaccination warrants. “We didn’t want to use vaccination as a deterrent. I think it can be a deterrent for some. But we strongly encourage it by having it on campus, ”he said, referring to the school’s vaccination site.
North Carolina A&T requires that students who do not show proof of vaccination be tested every week. The school has a zero tolerance policy and students who do not comply will have their dormitory access cards and meal plans closed.
“I am really very worried as the school year approaches that this could be a bad school year. We have seen sick people, but I think we will end up seeing more and more sick, more symptomatic students, we will have a lot more of them, ”said Padonda Webb, director of student health services at NC A&T. “And that’s why we push, push, push vaccinations as much as we can.”
Greensboro University gives out free T-shirts and gift cards to students who get vaccinated, and hosts a weekly draw for bigger prizes, including free accommodation, free parking, and a come-home experience which Webb says will give the winner access to the football team locker. room.
But as with other public institutions that are part of the University of North Carolina system, the HBCU which has around 13,500 students cannot force students and faculty to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“It would be a lot easier if there was only one state warrant to say, hey, everyone has to have it,” Webb said. “Without that being in place, I feel like we are constantly justifying the decisions we make.”
Florida A&M University has taken a similar approach to immunization. The Tallahassee school said it provides weekly $ 100 gift certificates to up to 10 students, teachers and staff who get vaccinated against the virus.
As a public university, it is not in a position to require vaccines or masks in indoor facilities. Florida has banned public colleges and universities from requiring vaccinations.
On the contrary, FAMU makes vaccines and masks easily accessible. It also discourages large gatherings on campus and encourages regular testing for its vaccinated population, given the increase and transmissibility of the delta variant.
“The more we can comply with, so to speak, these guidelines, the better off we would all be,” said FAMU President Larry Robinson of the mask and vaccination.
VACCINATION REQUIRED BY SOME
The CDC, in its general guidelines to higher education institutions, said universities whose students, faculty and staff are fully immunized do not need to require masks or physical distancing, although it now recommend that everyone in areas with a high or substantial degree of spread of COVID-19 wears a mask in indoor public places.
For schools that do not require vaccination, the CDC recommended implementing a screening program with frequent testing. He also suggested limitations on large gatherings in schools with unvaccinated students while not explicitly advising colleges and universities to forgo sporting events.
“It’s really not about being one-size-fits-all, but working closely with the HBCUs to answer their specific questions and be of use to them,” said Cameron Webb, senior policy advisor for equity at the HBCU. White House COVID-19 response team, referring to federal guidelines.
President Joe Biden and his administration encouraged colleges and universities, including black medical schools, that put the vaccine mandates in place for their students.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona praised Howard University in Washington, DC, for immunizing its students and the surrounding community.
“They use their name in the community to build trust in the community – the black community – so that they feel comfortable coming in,” Cardona said.
Howard is part of the private HBCUs demanding that students be vaccinated this fall. He also made the vaccine mandatory for teachers and staff. Delaware State University at Dover, a public institution, also requires proof of vaccination for students. He did not extend the mandate to employees.
DSU General Counsel LaKresha Moultrie said the university’s goal is to create a bubble that improves student safety and allows them to participate in campus activities.
“It also gives us the opportunity to say, no need to leave campus every weekend. No need to plan activities outside of our campus. We can host you here and we know you are safe because you are testing regularly, ”Moultrie said. “We know you are safe, because we have a population vaccinated to the greatest extent possible. So I think it serves everyone’s interests.
Medical experts say they are concerned about HBCUs this fall, with young adults and African Americans getting vaccinated more slowly than their peers. The black community throughout the pandemic has also been at greater risk of contracting and experiencing severe side effects from COVID.
“I am deeply concerned about the return of students to campus with a more contagious delta variant,” said former surgeon general Jerome Adams. “The good news is that we have more PPE, more tests, more knowledge about the virus and, most importantly, vaccinations. The bad news is that many black communities, for a variety of reasons, are still lagging behind in terms of vaccination rates, so HBCUs could be at higher risk for an outbreak. “
Webb said the White House COVID-19 response team has spoken to states that are seeing an increase in their engagement with the HBCUs. He said health officials were also working with Howard University President Wayne Frederick, a cancer surgeon who hosted webinars for HBCUs on the fight against COVID.
Frederick said in an interview ahead of a virtual meeting with Biden this week that Howard had helped HBCUs without medical schools with their COVID-19 prevention strategies. He said he also provides information about the vaccine to professors and staff at Howard who are concerned so they can make informed decisions.
“One person at a time, if need be,” he said. “I will talk to anyone – not just them – I will talk to any of their friends, any of their family, anywhere in the country, I will answer all of their questions. “