R.I. first state to have all colleges mandating COVID vaccine

Delta variant, out-of-state students still pose concerns.
By: | July 14, 2021
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In 11 states, no colleges or universities are mandating COVID-19 vaccinations. But in the smallest state in the U.S., all of them are.

Rhode Island’s 11 institutions of higher education—which include an Ivy League school, several privates, a state university and a community college system—are requiring doses for students who will be on campuses at the start of the fall semester.

Officials say those decisions are critical in stemming a virulent strain of coronavirus and in being able to fully reopen with certainty, especially given the makeup of those colleges and universities.

“I am proud that Rhode Island’s institutions of higher education have all stepped up to do what is best to protect their communities and our state,” Gov. Dan McKee said. “We are keeping a close eye on the Delta variant with 73,000 college students, including 48% of out-of-state students, headed back to campus in Rhode Island this fall. I commend our colleges and universities for their efforts to keep Rhode Island healthy this school year and beyond.”

Although Rhode Island is one of the top states in terms of vaccinations—more than 85% of those 60-and-over have received doses —the group with the lowest total is 19-24-year-olds at just 43%, trailing even the 15-18 group. So, the combination of those data and the number of students coming from outside its borders is a concern, not just in Rhode Island but across the country.

More from UB: State-by-state college vaccine mandates

However, that doesn’t mean all individuals in those age brackets are college students. In fact, Brown University reports that 90% of its population—which include students, staff and faculty —are fully vaccinated.

“We continue to see little to no COVID-19 positivity on the Brown campus, and we can attribute that in large part to vaccination levels,” Russell Carey, Brown Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy, said in a statement.

Inside the numbers

Across the nation, less than 600 colleges and universities have implemented COVID vaccine requirements, including some that have included staff and faculty. There has been a noticeable slowdown over the past month in institutions mandating vaccinations as many wrestle with the Food & Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization status or simply decide not to impose them. The University of California and California State University are two systems that have announced requirements but only when full approval of one of the vaccines is granted.

In addition to the dozen states that have no institutions installing mandates, four states feature just one institution making vaccines a requirement. They largely fall across political lines, although few institutions across blue states Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Wisconsin have adopted them. In the Northeast, however, most colleges have, especially in New York and Massachusetts.

The Community College of Rhode Island, one of the few two-year systems in the country to implement the requirement, is doing so to protect its populations and with the hopes of “reuniting its community”. As with many adopters of COVID-19 policies, CCRI says students who fail to get vaccinated will not be allowed to participate in any on-campus activities or in-person classes. Many colleges are allowing unvaccinated students to remove masks while telling those who haven’t been vaccinated to keep masks on while undergoing periodic testing for the virus.

Other colleges in the state that have enacted mandates include: Bryant University, Johnson & Wales University, New England Institute of Technology, Providence College, Rhode Island College, Rhode Island School of Design, Roger Williams University, Salve Regina University and the University of Rhode Island.