Dozens of higher ed groups call on lawmakers to allow coronavirus prevention measures

Dive Brief: 

  • The American College Health Association and nearly three dozen other higher education organizations called out legislators for passing bills that restrict colleges’ ability to use effective coronavirus mitigation measures such as mask-wearing and surveillance testing. 

  • They issued a statement Monday urging state lawmakers to allow colleges to use every public health tool available to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

  • “These restrictions undermine the ability of all organizations, including colleges and universities, to operate safely and fully at a time of tremendous unpredictability,” the statement reads.

Dive Insight: 

The groups called out lawmakers for a recent string of legislation that restricts colleges and other organizations from using proven coronavirus mitigation measures. It comes as the pandemic is once again worsening in the U.S. due to the highly contagious delta variant, which now makes up the bulk of new infections.

More than 630 campuses are requiring at least some students and employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus for the fall term, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, although that count includes institutions whose requirement won’t kick in until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gives a vaccine full approval. Several large institutions have issued new vaccine mandates over the past week, including the University of Michigan and the California State University system.

The higher ed organizations, in their call to lawmakers, stressed the danger posed by the delta variant, which is as transmissible as the chickenpox, according to leaked documents from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One way to stop the spread of the delta variant is through vaccines, which reduce chances of infection threefold, according to the CDC documents. 

But conservative lawmakers in several states are blocking colleges from issuing vaccine mandates.

States including Florida have banned colleges and other entities from requiring proof of vaccination. And Arkansas banned coronavirus vaccines from being a “condition of education.”

Louisiana’s attorney general likewise threatened legal action over a college’s planned vaccine mandate, saying it violates students’ rights, The Advocate reported. However, at least four private colleges in the state are planning to require the shots, according to a local media report.

One recent court ruling could give colleges some legal cover. A federal judge upheld Indiana University’s vaccine mandate in July, and an appeals court recently refused to block the requirement.

And at least one state is going further, banning mask mandates as well. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed an executive order last week banning government entities from requiring either the COVID-19 vaccine or masks.

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