RHODE ISLAND – Life in the Ocean State has begun to resume some sense of normalcy, though there is still some question about what the college experience will look like for students attending school in Rhode Island this fall.
A handful of colleges and universities across the state – both public and private – have already begun mandating that students receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Last week, the University of Rhode Island announced that starting in the fall, they would be requiring all undergraduate and graduate students to receive the vaccine.
“In order to participate in any on‑site or in‑person courses and activities, students at all URI campuses will be expected to be vaccinated by the start of the fall 2021 semester,” the university shared in a statement.
Though medical and religious exemptions from vaccination will be granted to students, and reasonable accommodations will be provided, those who are not vaccinated and do not qualify for exemption “will not be permitted to access campus and will need to either petition to study remotely from their permanent residence or take a leave of absence.”
Students attending in-person classes and on-campus events will need to provide proof of vaccination to the university by Aug. 16.
For the summer session at the Community College of Rhode Island, which began this week, all students, faculty, and staff were instructed to come to campus with either a negative COVID test taken no more than 72 hours prior to your first day arriving on campus OR proof of being fully vaccinated.
The college stressed that for those who received the vaccine, it must be two weeks since you received the last dose of the vaccine to be considered fully vaccinated.
At CCRI, those who are not fully vaccinated will need to get tested every two weeks in order to attend in-person classes, but there has been no official word on whether or not the college will be requiring students to receive the vaccine.
Similarly, Rhode Island College hasn’t come out with any official word on vaccine requirements for its students.
A handful of private colleges across the state have come out with requirements for their students, while others are still weighing their options.
In East Greenwich, the New England Institute of Technology will also be requiring students participating in on-campus classes or activities this coming fall to receive the vaccine.
This decision was made last week, in light of “data provided by local and federal public health officials, with the safety of the university community of the utmost importance.”
“The heart of the New England Tech learning experience is a hands-on interactive student environment,” according to a statement released by the institute. “The COVID-19 vaccination requirement will provide the optimum environment for our students to succeed and develop the skills they will need as they prepare for their careers.”
New England Tech will be providing medical and religious exemptions to students, and reasonable accommodations will be provided as allowed by applicable laws and regulations.
“The COVID-19 vaccination requirement will also provide a safer environment and the return of a more traditional college experience for New England Tech students,” the statement continued. “In addition to engaging classroom and lab experiences, students will participate more safely in exciting events, activities, student clubs and intramural sports.”
The majority of higher education institutions in Providence are also mandating their students receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
The state’s only Ivy League institution – Brown University – will be among those requiring its students engaged in on-campus classes and activities to receive the vaccine. This requirement is already in play for students participating in summer session, and will be required of everyone coming onto campus this fall.
“Based on discussions with Brown’s public health and medical experts, it is clear that our priority should be to achieve near-universal levels of vaccination — 90% or greater — in the Brown community,” according to a public letter from Brown President Christina H. Paxson earlier this month. “People who are vaccinated are much less likely to get COVID-19. They are also less likely to become seriously ill or spread the illness to others if they do contract the virus… The sooner we can achieve near-universal vaccination, the sooner we’ll be able to lift public health restrictions on campus and return to a more normal environment for teaching and research, with full confidence that the health of the community is being protected.”
The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) will also be requiring all students to receive the vaccine, and to provide proof of vaccination to the school by the start of August.
“At this time, vaccinated individuals must continue to abide by all of RISD’s health safety protocols, including testing, self-screening, wearing a face covering at all times, maintaining 6 [foot] distance, and frequent hand washing,” the school shared in it’s public COVID plan.
Johnson & Wales University, well known across the county for its culinary and business schools, has also announced that its on-campus students will be required to received the vaccine.
“After careful consultation with government and public health officials, the university will require that all students be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 [...] prior to their arrival to campus for the 2021 fall semester,” according to the university.
Students are being asked to upload confirmation of their COVID-19 vaccination into their electronic medical record.
Providence College has yet to come out with a statement about whether or not students will be required to receive the vaccine.
Other institutions are continuing to weigh its options, and have yet to make an official decision in the matter.
At Roger Williams University in Bristol, students and employees who’ve received the vaccine “should provide that information to the university.”
Earlier this year, the university shared that “once the vaccine is readily available, [they] would definitely consider requiring it, with religious or medical exceptions, just as with the flu shot.”
The school has held vaccine clinics, and even though many people across the state had already become eligible for the vaccine prior to the university’s commencement ceremonies, all attendees were still required to provide a negative COVID-19 test.
In a letter to the Salve Regina University community in April, President Kelli J. Armstrong shared that the school was still carefully considering this decision.
“Recently, several institutions in the state have announced mandatory vaccination protocols for their students prior to the fall semester, and this is something Salve Regina is also considering very carefully,” Armstrong wrote. “While we are not yet making an announcement on this policy, we continue to encourage all members of the Salve Regina community to receive the coronavirus vaccine as soon as they are eligible.”
“I’m grateful for the continued kindness and fortitude of our Salve Regina community as we approach the end of this academic year,” she went on. “In spite of all the obstacles, the essential elements of our mercy spirit remained intact throughout the pandemic. I look forward to the fall semester, when we can once again enjoy all of those experiences we cherish in our close-knit learning environment.”
Further North, in Smithfield, Bryant University is among the collection of high institutions yet to have made an official decision on the matter. The university has encouraged all members of this community to receive the vaccine at their first opportunity, however.
Bryant was one of the few universities in the nation to complete the academic year at nearly full residency – about 94 percent – and with no interruption of classes held in person, according to the university.
“Commitment to the health and safety of Bryant’s campus community has included more than 130,000 tests for COVID-19 and strong support for vaccines,” according to a statement earlier this month, and a campus-wide committee will work throughout the summer to plan the fall semester.
Rhode Island Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott and Gov. Dan McKee both continue to stress the critical importance of getting vaccinated. Widespread immunity, according to state health officials, is going to be how we safely, and fully, reopen the Ocean State’s economy and schools.