VCU leaders on Monday announced that students taking classes this fall will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

VCU will require students to get COVID-19 vaccine for fall semester

The requirement is for all students who live, learn, work or will be on campus this fall, excluding those with religious or health exemptions.

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Virginia Commonwealth University will require students taking classes this fall to be vaccinated against COVID-19, university leaders announced Monday. The announcement, made in letters to VCU students and faculty and staff distributed Monday morning, align VCU with a growing number of colleges and universities across the country taking similar steps to return to a more normal campus life.

The letters — signed by VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D.; Gail Hackett, Ph.D., provost and senior vice president for academic affairs; Art Kellermann, M.D., senior vice president for VCU Health Sciences and CEO of VCU Health System; and Meredith Weiss, Ph.D., vice president for administration — also outlined the latest developments in the university’s efforts to have “a robust and engaged on-campus learning, living and working experience this fall.”

“[COVID-19] vaccines are now widely available and have proven to be some of the safest, most reliable and effective vaccines in history,” Rao, Hackett, Kellermann and Weiss wrote. “This requirement [for students] will allow our students to safely learn, live, gather and experience college at its best.”

The vaccine requirement is for all students who live, learn, work or will be on campus this fall, excluding those with religious or health exemptions. Students attending fall classes must report their vaccination to University Student Health Services no later than July 15, and students enrolled in VCU’s health sciences schools and those taking summer classes are encouraged to receive and report their vaccinations sooner, if possible, VCU leaders wrote. Students who receive a two-dose vaccination must report completion of both doses. VCU has provided detailed information about full vaccination, documentation requirements, religious and health exemptions, and vaccine manufacturers on a student vaccine FAQ page on the One VCU: Better Together website.

Employees not required but strongly encouraged to be vaccinated

As for employees, VCU is not requiring them to be vaccinated, but “strongly encourages” employees “to follow the guidance of [VCU’s] Public Health Response Team in choosing to be vaccinated as soon as possible,” Rao, Hackett, Kellermann and Weiss wrote. And though there is not a vaccine requirement for employees, there are other requirements:

All full- and part-time VCU faculty and staff who have not already done so must complete a vaccination reporting survey by July 15 to report their vaccination status to the university. VCU has provided more details about vaccines and requirements for faculty and staff on a vaccine FAQ page on the One VCU: Better Together website.

Students and employees who are unvaccinated or exempt from vaccination must follow safety guidelines “for their health and for the health of our community,” Rao, Hackett, Kellermann and Weiss wrote. This includes, but is not limited to: wearing a mask, routine COVID-19 surveillance testing, completing daily health checks, and continuing to follow public safety measures including quarantine procedures.

Meanwhile, students and employees who are vaccinated, and report their vaccination to VCU, are exempt from masking, daily health checks, surveillance testing and quarantine requirements.

Public health and safety measures

Effective immediately, the university also is changing some of its public health and safety measures, VCU leaders wrote Monday.

There will no longer be physical distancing requirements or density restrictions in campus spaces, inclusive of classes, events, meetings, research laboratories and gatherings. Though masks are not required for those who are vaccinated, they remain required for those who are not vaccinated and also are required for everyone (vaccinated or unvaccinated) in the following settings: congregate housing (specifically in all common areas of VCU residence halls); all VCU Health System owned, operated or leased space; health care settings at VCU; and whenever accommodations for immune-compromised community members may be necessary.

Vaccinated community members who wish to wear a mask out of an abundance of caution are encouraged to do so, Rao, Hackett, Kellermann and Weiss wrote. And the university will continue its public health and safety measures this fall. Masks, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies will be available in vending machines and common areas. The MYCOVID call center will remain operational and will continue to help VCU community members seeking guidance related to testing and quarantine and isolation protocols.

VCU leaders said they reached these decisions with input from the university’s Public Health Response Team and VCU community. The changes to public health and safety measures are “consistent with guidance from the Virginia Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American College Health Association and decisions announced by peer institutions in Virginia,” Rao, Hackett, Kellermann and Weiss wrote. These guidelines also are consistent with Gov. Ralph Northam’s Executive Order No. 79, which went into effect May 28 and lifted many pandemic-related restrictions.

Phased transition to on-campus work

Monday’s letter to faculty and staff also introduced guidelines from VCU Human Resources that will help employees navigate work arrangements for the fall. Though individual arrangements will vary based on the employee and their role, the top-level details are that employees and their supervisors will formalize flexible work arrangements within the parameters of these new guidelines.

The planning and implementation of these arrangements will take place this summer. Mandatory training for all managers and employees seeking approval for a flexible work arrangement will be available in Talent@VCU on June 14 and VCU Human Resources will host workshops this summer to help support managers in making decisions about employee flexible work arrangements. In July, a phased transition to on-campus work will begin for employees in student- and patient-facing roles that need to be on campus. And from Aug. 1-24, a phased transition to on-campus work will begin for the majority of employees. All flexible work arrangements are due by Aug. 24, coinciding with the first day of classes on the Monroe Park Campus.

“In short, these guidelines are designed to support supervisors and university employees working together over the coming weeks and months to best meet the needs of the university as well as the employee,” Rao, Hackett, Kellermann and Weiss wrote. “While they support university goals, they also reflect the need for ongoing work-life balance and well-being.”

Read the student and faculty and staffletters, the student vaccine and employee vaccine FAQ pages and the timeline for formalizing flexible work arrangements on the One VCU: Better Together website.