A petition to institute a vaccine mandate at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale is circulating following an incident in which at least two classes were exposed to a COVID positive student.
“I’m the [graduate assistant (GA)] assigned to a class that leads one of the breakout discussions,” Adam Turl, a GA in the mass communication school, said. “Several dozen students in a medium to small size lecture hall where you couldn’t socially distance.”
Turl said when they were notified of the COVID exposure by SIU-C on Thursday school administrators seemed more concerned about getting the infected student their homework than the health of the students and staff, and that the incident was one of at least twelve they’d heard of from other graduate assistants.
Kim Rendfeld, executive director of communications and marketing at SIU-C, said there have been no COVID outbreaks, “in any classroom, and If there were an outbreak, we would follow the Department of Health order to pause our use of the classroom until it was thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.”
SIU-C’s COVID-19 Dashboard shows six positive cases of the virus from August 9 through August 15, and shows 13 students in quarantine as of August 20.
That is the third highest number of quarantined students since SIU-C began tracking, close to past COVID positivity peaks in November 2020 and January 2021 when 18 students and 16 students, respectively, were recorded in quarantine.
Turl, along with other graduate assistants, faculty members, and community members, put together the petition demanding the school require vaccinations, mandate testing for unvaccinated students, bring back access to online learning options for classes, and address social distancing issues.
“I thought it was odd and irresponsible not to have a requirement for vaccination or regular testing… and there’s no reporting from the administration about the number of cases on campus,” Turl said.
At time of publishing, the petition had over 318 signatures.
While SIUC decided to make vaccination and testing optional, other schools like those in the University of Illinois (UofI) system, Doane University, Loyola University and California State University are requiring students to get the COVID-19 Vaccine.
According to a statement by UofI System President Tim Killeen the decision to mandate vaccines for students and staff was, “consistent with our own scientific modeling of the risks associated with the spread of the virus and its variants. It is also consistent with the Illinois Department of Public Health’s goals.”
Rendfeld said she could not speculate on the reasoning behind other schools’ COVID safety procedures, compared to those in place at SIU-C.
According to Liz McCue, communications manager at Doane University, and Hazel Kelly, public affairs manager at California State, both of the schools are making the vaccine required as a way to keep students safe and reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Kelly said, “With the current surge of COVID cases due to the spread of the highly infectious delta variant… Receiving a COVID vaccine continues to be the best way to mitigate the spread of the virus.”
According to McCue the school would prefer students get vaccinated before they come on campus, but if they are not able to get it after then the school will have a vaccine clinic on campus at the start of the school year.
Regarding SIU-C’s COVID measures, Rendfeld said, “we do already provide vaccine clinics on campus. It’s twice weekly, and we already provide updates of our testing and positive cases.”
For now SIU-C is only encouraging students to get vaccinated, but if cases keep rising the administration might need to rethink their position, Rendfeld said.
“We are continuing to monitor the situation, and we will adapt our plans as we need to do so… The decisions that we make will be in the best interest of the university, and they will be based on the guidance of public health experts,” Rendfeld said.
Schools such as California State have made it clear that they want their students to get vaccinated before a certain time. According to Kelly, students have to provide proof of vaccination or receive an exemption by September 30th, or they will not be allowed to use the campus facilities.
“Students and employees accessing any CSU campus facilities must either provide certification of vaccination or receive an exemption for medical or religious reasons,” Kelly said.
Kelly said if students are not vaccinated they may face disciplinary action.
According to Loyola’s COVID-19 information page their administration will be suspending students’ enrollment if they fail to verify their vaccination status.
“Students who have not uploaded their vaccination cards or received approval for an exemption by Friday August 6th, will not remain enrolled in classes when the fall semester begins and will not have access to campus building.”
Turl said the GAs don’t understand why SIU-C hasn’t taken more severe precautions to mitigate the spread of COVID on campus and in the larger community.
“I don’t understand the sort of lackadaisical approach that the administration has taken,” Turl said. “The trajectory over time is towards reduced vaccine efficacy, which is particularly worrisome for people who are immunocompromised, like myself.”
Editor’s note: The print version of this story contained a transcription error. This version has been updated to reflect the correct wording
Staff reporters Janiyah Gaston and Jason Flynn can be reached at [email protected], [email protected], or on Instagram at @janiyah_reports. To stay up to date with all your Southern Illinois news follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.