BYU updates COVID-19 protocols while Utah universities issue vaccine mandates

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By Ash Pitcher and Austin Rustand

BYU has added additional specifics to its COVID-19 protocols following announcements that other Utah universities will begin mandating COVID-19 vaccines.

In an email sent to faculty on Aug. 27, BYU Academic Vice President Shane Reese said “students who refuse to wear masks when asked to do so can be referred to the Dean of Students.” It also noted that students must wear masks while in classrooms regardless of vaccination status. However, professors who are fully vaccinated may remove their masks while teaching if physical distancing is possible. 

BYU Photo
BYU updated its COVID-19 policies for the Fall 2021 semester to limit the spread of COVID-19. Four other universities in Utah have announced they will be requiring vaccination. (Made with Photoshop by Austin Rustand/BYU Photo)

“Not all classrooms permit physical distancing between the teacher and the students; in those cases, even fully vaccinated instructors must always wear a mask,” Reese said in the email. 

This announcement from BYU comes in the wake of the University of Utah, Utah State University and Weber State University’s announcements on Friday that each institution will be requiring all students to receive a COVID-19 vaccine to attend in-person classes. Utah Valley University followed suit by announcing Monday it will be requiring COVID-19 vaccines for students in the spring semester.

As of last week, vaccine mandates were not permitted because of Utah’s HB308, which prohibits universities from mandating a vaccine that has only been authorized for emergency use. However, because the FDA gave full authorization to the Pfizer vaccine on Aug. 23, it opened the door for universities to begin mandating vaccinations for their students.

“The law allows Utah’s universities to require vaccinations as long as there is a path for students to submit personal exemptions and attend in-person classes,” Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said in a statement on Friday. “We support this balanced approach and look forward to keeping students, faculty and staff at our colleges and universities safe this year.”

University of Utah senior leadership released a statement on Friday, Aug. 27 expressing approval of the government’s added flexibility for vaccine requirements.

“The University of Utah intends to pursue requiring COVID-19 vaccination for its students,” the statement said. “We appreciate this opportunity to collaborate with state leaders as the rates of infection and hospitalization grow throughout Utah.”

Students attend class on the first day of fall semester wearing masks. BYU updated its COVID-19 protocols while other universities in Utah require vaccine mandates. (Dallin Wilks)

Utah code requires institutions to allow students to apply for medical, religious or personal vaccination exemptions. The universities are expected to release specific details about exemptions and related policies in the future.

“Students want to be in face-to-face classes and participate in activities and events and we want to make sure they can enjoy all the traditions and opportunities that make being an Aggie so special,” said Utah State University President Noelle E. Cockett in a statement to students last Friday.

Vaccines are the most important tool in the fight against COVID-19 and will help keep classes and activities in person while protecting the health of the campus community, Cockett said.

Allison Hess, public relations director for Weber State University, said the university was still working on vaccine mandate details. These include defining what personal, medical and religious vaccine exemptions could look like. In line with both Utah State University and the University of Utah, Weber State has said it will not implement its vaccine mandate until January 2022. 

BYU in conjunction with its sponsor, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has strongly urged students, faculty and staff to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. However, it is not mandating vaccination to attend on-campus classes this fall, according to BYU’s COVID-19 policies.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, universities in Utah have been tracking COVID-19 cases and vaccination rates on their campuses to aid in making decisions regarding COVID-19 protocols.  

BYU has recorded nearly 5,500 positive cases of COVID-19 since Winter Semester 2020 and currently has a 71% full vaccination rate among students, faculty and staff.

Since the start of the pandemic, the University of Utah has reported 3,555 COVID-19 cases, Utah State has reported 3,379, Utah Valley has reported 2,229 and Weber State has reported 669.

Readers can find more information concerning the pandemic and vaccinations on Utah’s COVID-19 website.

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