According to the report, BU has reached a student vaccination rate of 99 percent with 280 medical or religious exemptions. Students who have exemptions are required to test weekly. Ryan Yarosh, senior director of media and public relations, said valid reasons for an exemption include being fully remote with no on-campus presence, having a medical condition that contraindicates COVID-19 vaccination and genuine religious beliefs that are contrary to the vaccine. Fifteen students have been deregistered for failure to comply with SUNY COVID-19 policy, according to Yarosh.
“General philosophical or moral objections to such vaccine do not suffice as the basis for a religious exemption,” Yarosh said. “With respect to medical and religious exemptions, the student seeking such exemption must also establish that being unvaccinated will otherwise prevent the student from completing the requirements of their academic program.”
According to the New York State COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker, about 73.1 percent of the state’s total population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 65.6 percent fully vaccinated. A vaccination mandate for health care workers in New York took effect at the end of September. New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul has recently expanded the mandate to include people who work in health care services served by the Office of Mental Health and the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. Staff in these settings need to show proof of vaccination by Nov. 1. The mandate has led to multiple lawsuits by nurses and others looking for exemptions, according to The New York Times. Currently, the mandate allows for medical exemptions for those allergic to parts of the vaccine, with no religious freedom exemption, which is the cause of many current suits.
The University has also recently increased capacity for COVID-19 testing. Currently, the University is conducting about 2,000 surveillance tests weekly. Stenger’s report claims the University expects to be conducting 5,000 tests weekly as efforts to test more regularly ramp up.
Michael Tang, a senior majoring in economics, said he felt the University could improve on how they are dealing with testing.
“I think that the University could definitely be more organized with their approach with regard to testing regularly,” Tang said. “I personally have not been reached out to as a student on campus and am unclear as to how students are selected, regardless of housing status. I have been told that students are able to schedule testing in the Union through B-Line, but on the weekends, when most people have in-person contact through parties or other socializing, they have no options. [Decker Student Health Services Center], [United Health Services] or other walk-in clinics are either closed or hard to access without a car. The lack of quarantine and isolation housing at the beginning of the semester also was a huge lack of foresight. I know people who have been asked to move within the day either home or to a hotel. I believe that, regardless of vaccination status, testing should be required on a regular basis, if not for safety, then for peace of mind amidst so many students traveling back and forth for frequent breaks.”
According to the report, the University was initially concerned that the limited number of available workers would affect the amount of testing on campus. The situation improved due to dropping COVID-19 case numbers in September, and at the time of the report, the University has accumulated a staff of 400 employee volunteers for testing. According to Yarosh, other areas of employment are also suffering due to a labor shortage, including dining workers and information technology workers.
The report also touched on the opening of the Violence, Abuse and Rape Crisis Center (VARCC), which aims to centralize resources for sexual violence survivors into one place, and the Harriet Tubman Center for the Study of Freedom and Equity, a research center focused on equity. Also mentioned was the renovation of Hinman Dining Center and other construction such as refurbishments in Glenn G. Bartle Library and the Science Library. Stenger also noted that University faculty have made achievements in areas of research and that the university has moved up in national rankings.
Stenger ended his report by saying he is optimistic about the semester, despite challenges he knows will be present.
“Clearly, this will be a challenging semester,” Stenger wrote. “So far, we have successfully navigated the ongoing challenges of [COVID-19] thanks to a concerted and committed effort on the part of the campus community and I am grateful for everyone’s help. I am optimistic that we will be able to hold our course for the next few months.”