By Leighah Beausoleil
Framingham State students are currently 81.1% compliant with the University’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate that went into effect in May 2021, according to FSU’s COVID-19 data dashboard on Sept. 11.
All students were required to provide their vaccination status on the Medicat site by Aug. 1, according to an May 12 email from Ilene Hofrenning, Health Center director.
FSU employees are currently 86.5% in compliance with their designated union mandates, according to the Sept. 11 data. All union vaccine mandates were in effect by Sept. 14.
There are four groups of employees on campus, according to Ann McDonald, chief of staff and general counsel. The first group is not represented by a union and was required to get the vaccine when the students received the mandate.
The next three are union groups that were each mandated to get the vaccine by different dates throughout the first two weeks of September, according to McDonald.
The Massachusetts State College Association represents the faculty and librarians. The American Federation of the State, County, and Municipal Employees represents the administrators and clerical employees on campus and the Association of Professional Administrators represents management.
Compliancy means the student or employee provided information to the University that they are vaccinated, exempt, or partially vaccinated and in the process of getting fully vaccinated, according to Meg Nowak Borrego, dean of students.
Everyone who is on campus is required to be in compliance as well as engage in masking while indoors, according to Nowak Borrego. The requirement for masking was a University decision as the City of Framingham and state of Massachusetts do not currently have any mask mandates in place.
As a result of a lack in mask compliance, the Athletic Center closed to non-athletes from Sept. 3 to Sept. 13 to enforce the importance of masking, according to a Sept. 3 email from Tom Kelley, athletics director and head football coach.
Students were warned of the consequences of improper mask wearing in a Sept. 13 email from President F. Javier Cevallos, “If we continue to observe widespread mask violations, the University may elect to discontinue or modify a program or service in order to prevent potential exposure or spread of the COVID-19 virus. This includes essential services such as dining and housing.”
There is no campus wide testing this semester because it is no longer required by the state, according to Nowak Borrego. Those not in compliance, exempt, or partially vaccinated must test weekly.
However, Hofrenning said the University is considering random sample testing of students.
Nowak Borrego said, “A lot of what we’re doing across campus this year versus last year is what was required by the CDC – the state – and last year the state dictated to us who we needed to test, when we needed to test, and how we needed to test. We don’t have that same mandate this year.”
Testing is now conducted on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the Athletic Center, according to Hofrenning. The University is continuing to use the Broad Institute for testing.
Two different types of tests are used by the Health Center – the usual polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test as well as BinaxNow, which is a rapid test that provides immediate results, said Hofrenning.
The University was hesitant to use a rapid test in the past out of fear of inaccuracy, but Hofrenning said she spoke with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and they had conducted a test that showed the test was 90% accurate in detecting the COVID-19 delta variant.
She explained it is because “there’s a lot more virus [to detect], so it’s easier to pick up.”
Those experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 should call the Health Center to set up a test in Foster Hall, she added.
Those who test positive for COVID-19 will be placed in isolation either oD campus or on campus, Hofrenning said.
Vaccinated students who are exposed to COVID-19 will not be required to quarantine unless they receive a positive test, she said. Vaccinated students are required to test within three to Rve days of exposure.
On-campus isolation and quarantining is now located in a wing of West Hall, according to Glenn Cochran, associate dean of students and student life. There is room for 20 to 30 students.
Last year, Linsley Hall had been the main on-campus location, but it was changed to accommodate full use of residence halls, Cochran said.
The residence halls have seen an approximate 80% increase in occupancy over the past year, with currently approximately 1,300 students compared to the 726 students last fall.
Residents on campus are 100% in compliance with the vaccine mandate, according to Cochran.
Another residence hall change is the permittance of vaccinated guests as long as they have proof of vaccination, he said.
According to Hofrenning, to target the commuter students, the University offered two vaccination clinics providing the hu vaccine as well as the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines on Sept. 2 and Sept. 8.
Hofrenning said the first day was “disappointing” with fewer than 50 people attending.
Nowak Borrego said some students may have received their vaccination or exemptions, but have just not uploaded it to the Medicat system yet.
She added before add/drop ended Sept. 10, the University was still trying to sort out who was enrolled before they could sort out who still needs to provide their vaccination status.
The data provided from the dashboard represents the number of students in compliance subsequent to the add/drop period.
“At this time, we are working to identify students who are not in compliance,” Nowak Borrego said in an email. “They are being reached out to in a variety of ways – blanket sanctions have not been determined at this time.”
In his Sept. 13 email, Cevallos said those not in compliance “risk removal from campus.”
In an interview, Cevallos said, “I just would encourage anybody who has not been vaccinated yet to do that because it does make a difference.”
Nowak Borrego said though nothing has been decided yet, un-enrollment of students who are not in compliance remains an option.
“We are not a private institution – we’re a public institution,” she added. “There are just different things we’re allowed to do and not to do. We’re also part of a system – the university system in Massachusetts – so a lot of our decisions have to be similar, and so that’s still getting sorted out.”
She said, “We want to make sure they [students] engage in the vaccination process because we as an institution believe it’s important.”
According to Sara Gallegos, director of Student Involvement and Leadership Development, at this time, social distancing is not required, but it is recommended.
This means there are currently no capacity limits for organization meetings except for those designated for fire safety, she said.
Organizations are permitted to hold in-person meetings, but are required to keep attendance through the new Ramlink app for contact tracing, she added.
As of Sept. 7, there were 33 fully active organizations, Gallegos said.
According to Aretha Philips, director of Dining Services, there are currently no COVID-19 restrictions in terms of dining, except for the required masks while not seated and eating.
This means there is no longer a limit to the number of people at a table, and no limit in time spent at the Dining Commons, she said.
Philips added she believes the students did a “phenomenal job” keeping the number of positive cases down.
“Kudos to you,” she said.