June 10, 2021
Dear Gonzaga Undergraduate, Graduate and Law Students:
Following the recommendations of a University group convened to consider Gonzaga’s approach to COVID-19 vaccination, I am today announcing that 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, including eligibility to study abroad, beginning Fall Semester 2021. Gonzaga’s primary mode of academic delivery for undergraduate students for fall 2021 will be in-person. (*Students in graduate programs that are offered exclusively online are not required to submit COVID-19 vaccination proof or documentation. Students in programs that are offered partly on campus/in person must submit proof of COVID-19 vaccination.)
This decision is informed by several key factors, including:
- Our University’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 belief 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; and
- The many challenges the Gonzaga community faced last 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 Friday, May 21st, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries and Governor Inslee simultaneously issued new directives for employers. The new directives require employers to confirm that employees are fully vaccinated before suspending masking and social distancing requirements. It is our understanding that the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) is finalizing guidance for Higher Education which likely will state 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. 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. 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 ~1500 students were obligated to quarantine due to potential exposure. In combination with technology upgrades to support remote learning, the cost of addressing COVID-19 issues alone last year exceeded $5 million. Throughout the year, campus housing and dining were significantly modified, very 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 – COVID-19 vaccines are now a reality. 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-19 vaccines more widely available here in Spokane, and vaccines are now available on campus for not only adults, but children age 12 and over. 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 are 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 accommodated in limited cases (namely, for medical or religious reasons).
Gonzaga’s Pandemic Response Task Force has been carefully considering how to adapt our campus health protocols as more of our faculty, staff and students become fully vaccinated. 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 in the process of finalizing the Gonzaga COVID-19 health guidelines for Fall 2021, and a central defining element is that our campus community has been vaccinated.
Submitting Your Vaccine Status to Health & Counseling Services
The University has been working to modify its existing, FERPA/HIPAA-compliant process for receiving proof of immunization from students, and it is anticipated that an updated vaccination portal will be active on/about June 21st. 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 so that you can prepare accordingly. 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 University after your arrival; however, we will follow CDC guidance regarding quarantine for unvaccinated international travelers. As of this time, un-vaccinated international students will be required to quarantine for 7 to 10 days after arriving in the United States. These students will be supported in obtaining the COVID-19 vaccine after arrival. Please note: Gonzaga University will accept all vaccines approved by the World Health Organization.
We will post the link to the COVID-19 Vaccination Reporting portal on our ZagOn 2021 website and let students and families know when it is live. Students who have concerns about, or difficulty obtaining, a COVID-19 vaccine should contact the Health and Counseling Services (HCS) office for further information. Please contact HCS 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. Thank you.
Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil.