Gonzaga Implements COVID-19 Vaccination Requirement

One of several COVID-19 vaccination clinics that were held at Gonzaga in the past year. (GU photo)
Gonzaga has partnered with local healthcare providers to make COVID-19 vaccines more widely available in Spokane. The efforts have included vaccination clinics held at Gonzaga. (GU photo)

June 10, 2021
Gonzaga News Service

SPOKANE, Wash. — Gonzaga University President Thayne McCulloh, D. Phil., announced today the University will require all campus-based undergraduate, graduate, and law students to submit proof of full COVID-19 vaccination (along with other required vaccines) to participate in in-person, campus-based programs and activities — and to be eligible to study abroad — beginning fall semester 2021.

Students in programs that are offered partly on campus/in person also must submit proof of full COVID-19 vaccination. Exemptions for medical or religious reasons will be accommodated. Students in graduate programs that are offered exclusively online are exempt from the new requirement.

“Gonzaga’s primary mode of academic delivery for undergraduate students for fall 2021 will be in-person,” President McCulloh noted. “It is our conclusion that reducing opportunities for infection and transmission is the single most significant prerequisite to lifting COVID-related restrictions and returning to a more normal campus life in the fall. We are planning now for our fall 2021 campus COVID-19 health protocols and knowing that our campus community is vaccinated is a critical element in that process.” 

The decision, which follows the recommendations of a work group convened on the matter, is informed by several key factors, including the following:

  • Gonzaga’s Catholic, Jesuit, and humanistic mission, which focuses on the common good as well as one’s own thriving and development.
  • The moral, ethical, and legal obligation to endeavor to create and support a reasonably safe and hazard-free campus and work environment for our students, faculty and staff.
  • The fact that vaccination is supported by local, state, and national public health agencies as the primary tool for preventing COVID-19 and ending the pandemic.
  • The understanding that immunization creates the best opportunity for resuming “normal” campus activities, including in-person instruction, shared residence hall spaces, communal dining, student sports, recreation and performance activities — many of which are fundamental to the holistic educational experience to which we are committed.
  • The many challenges the Gonzaga community faced this past year managing infections, and the necessity to channel more resources into creating an inclusive, in-person experience and less on COVID-19 testing, isolation and quarantine services.

New State Masking & Vaccination Guidance

On May 21, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries and Gov. Jay Inslee issued new directives requiring employers to confirm that employees are fully vaccinated before suspending masking and social distancing requirements. Gonzaga will provide information soon to employees regarding vaccinations.

“It is our understanding that the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) is finalizing guidance for higher education, which makes it clear that only campuses with a vaccination requirement for students, faculty and staff will be permitted to eliminate social distancing and other extensive mitigation requirements this fall,” President McCulloh noted. “Those who are not immunized will be obligated to follow the University’s COVID-19 mitigation strategies, which include wearing of masks, frequent PCR testing and social distancing.”

Defeating the Pandemic

“If anyone can testify to the stress and many difficulties of pursuing campus-based academic work while dealing with the threat of COVID-19, it is our students,” President McCulloh noted in a message to the students. “Campus operations, both here and abroad, have been severely impacted during the past fifteen months while managing in the face of COVID-19. Our campus in Florence, Italy had to suspend operations for over a year; the Class of 2020 was unable to have in-person graduation; and over the course of last academic year, more than 750 students tested positive for COVID-19 and had to isolate, while another 1,500 students were obligated to quarantine due to potential exposure.”

Combined with technology upgrades to support remote learning, the cost of addressing COVID-19 issues alone last year exceeded $5 million, President McCulloh noted, adding that throughout the year campus housing and dining were significantly modified, few in-person social events could be held, and spectators were barred from most sporting events.

Due to the incredible, decades-long work of scientists and pharmaceutical companies on coronaviruses and mRNA research — and with the massive financial support of the federal government — effective COVID-19 vaccines are a reality, he noted, adding that the widespread adoption of vaccines is considered the primary method of bringing the coronavirus pandemic to an end.

“Since February, Gonzaga has partnered with local healthcare providers to make COVID vaccines more widely available here in Spokane, and vaccines are now available on campus for not only adults, but children age 12 and over,” President McCulloh noted. “Reflective of recent guidance from the American College Health Association, there is widespread agreement at Gonzaga that the best way to create a campus environment in which all of our faculty, staff and students feel safe to resume in-person activities is to achieve as high a rate of vaccination as possible. Our goal is for all of our faculty, staff and students to be vaccinated, with exemptions granted in limited cases (namely, for medical or religious reasons).”

Gonzaga’s Pandemic Response Task Force has been carefully considering how to adapt campus health protocols as more of faculty, staff and students become fully vaccinated.

Students to Submit Vaccine Status

Gonzaga has been working to modify its existing process for receiving proof of immunization from students — which is compliant with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) — and anticipates an updated portal to receive immunization will be active by June 21.

“We will send communications to all students once this portal is active, but we wanted to make sure you are aware of the University’s decision to require documentation and prepare accordingly,” President McCulloh noted in his message to students. “If you are not yet vaccinated or must still receive a second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, we urge you to complete the full course of treatment now.”

For international students or others who may have difficulty obtaining COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccines will be available through Gonzaga after they arrive on campus — following guidance of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding quarantine for unvaccinated international travelers. At this time, unvaccinated international students will be required to quarantine for 7-10 days after their arrival in the United States. These students will be supported in obtaining the COVID-19 vaccine after arrival. Importantly, GU will accept vaccines approved by the World Health Organization.

The link to the COVID-19 Vaccination Reporting portal will be posted on the ZagOn 2021 website: www.gonzaga.edu/zagon. The University will inform students and families when the link is live.

Students with concerns about, or difficulty obtaining, a COVID-19 vaccine should contact the Health and Counseling Services office for further information at (509) 313-4052.

“We are all looking forward to safely resuming the many activities that define the Gonzaga experience. That possibility is now within reach, and I thank you in advance for the critical part each of you will play in achieving our common goal of learning, working and living safely with one another this coming year,” President McCulloh concluded.