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COVID-19 vaccination rates soar at USM schools

At the University of Maryland, College Park, 97.4% of all faculty, students and staff on campus have been vaccinated, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard. (The Daily Record /File Photo)

University System of Maryland schools are going into the 2021-22 school year with vaccination rates for students and staff that far surpass the vaccination rates in their local jurisdictions and throughout the state of Maryland.

In April, USM Chancellor Jay Perman announced that all students, faculty and staff at USM institutions would be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend school during the fall semester, except for those with medical or religious exemptions.

Other university systems across the country, including both of California’s public university systems, are also requiring the vaccine, as are a number of private universities in Maryland.

At the University of Maryland, College Park, which resumed full in-person learning on Monday following two semesters of hybrid instruction, 97.4% of all faculty, students and staff on campus have already received the jab, according to data provided on the university’s COVID-19 dashboard.

This figure far surpasses the percentage of both Price George’s County residents and Maryland residents over 18 who have received at least one dose of the shot, at 77.6% and 80.9%, respectively, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Other major schools in the system are also reporting high numbers; at Towson University, a communication sent out to students on Monday stated that 94.5% of the school’s faculty and staff and 93.7% of its students were compliant with the university system’s vaccine mandate, which includes both those who have received the shot and those who have requested exemptions.

As of last Friday, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, is reporting a vaccination rate of 94%, with 95% of students, 91% of faculty, and 87% of staff having submitted vaccination records.

Both universities are in Baltimore County, where the overall rate of those over 18 who have received at least one vaccine dose is 77.8%.

Leaders at Maryland’s colleges hope these high vaccination rates on campus — supplemented by mandating regular COVID-19 testing for those with medical or religious exemptions — will keep COVID-19 cases on campus sparse, especially with students returning to congregate living and full-capacity classes.

Last semester, even with most schools in Maryland limiting on-campus living and learning, some experienced outbreaks of COVID-19 and were forced to add new safety measures or even pivot to fully remote classes to curb the spread of the virus.

Although all USM schools are mandating the vaccine for students, faculty and staff, the universities within the system all have somewhat differing vaccination policies, varying on when students need be vaccinated and what the penalty for not receiving the inoculation is.

Towson, for example, is allowing students to either provide proof of their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine or request an exemption by Sept. 10, nearly two weeks after the school’s semester began.

According to a communication from the school sent out on Monday, students who have not complied with the mandate will begin being disenrolled the following Monday, while employees will be placed on unpaid leave and will not be offered the chance to telework instead.

Other schools, like Bowie State University, have also extended the deadline by which students must receive their shot. Bowie students now have until Sept. 30 to get fully vaccinated, which the university said in a news release aims to accommodate both students admitted after Aug. 1, and the 1,390 students whose tuition and mandatory fee debt Bowie recently relieved, allowing them to return to school.

Meanwhile, some schools maintained an earlier deadline for mandating the vaccine. Both the University of Baltimore and the University of Maryland, Baltimore, two USM institutions that have higher proportions of graduate students than their peer institutions, proof of vaccination was required to be submitted by Aug. 1 and Aug. 2, respectively.