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USM to mandate COVID-19 booster, but only for students living on campus

All USM institutions will require their residential students receive a booster shot. (File Photo)

All University System of Maryland schools will require their residential students, excluding those with medical or religious exemptions, to receive a COVID-19 booster shot, the system announced Friday. USM said that details of the mandate, including when the students will need to receive the shot and what documentation they will be required to provide, will vary from university to university. 

“Recent data show that boosters offer added protection against COVID, reducing symptom severity, including in cases of Omicron infection,” the system’s announcement said. “Our available vaccines shorten the duration of illness and infectiousness, reducing transmissibility and spread in settings such as congregate housing.” 

The decision follows announcements from three other Baltimore region universities that also will be requiring the booster in the spring 2022 semester. Johns Hopkins University, Loyola University Maryland and McDaniel College all announced their mandates late last month; the first two colleges will require both eligible students and eligible employees to receive the shot, while McDaniel is only requiring undergraduate students to do so. 

These announcements come as the more transmissible omicron variant of the virus sweeps the United States, causing a massive surge in cases and becoming the dominant strain among new infections.  

USM, like the majority of four-year colleges across the state, previously decided last spring that it would require students, staff and faculty to be fully vaccinated before they could come back to campus in fall 2021.

The booster mandate, in contrast, will only apply to students living on campus. 

“We recognize that individuals in congregate housing are at the greatest risk for contracting the coronavirus, particularly the highly transmissible omicron variant,” the university system’s announcement said. “We recognize, as well, the enormous operational challenges posed to our institutions should they have to isolate, quarantine, and care for large numbers of students in the event of an outbreak in campus housing.” 

The announcement did not include information about any additional blanket measures that the system as a whole will be taking to curb the spread of the virus.

“Each USM campus is managing its response to protect against the omicron surge, with specific updates to its campus community,” USM spokesman Mike Lurie said in an email.

Many USM campuses were already planning to require students to produce a negative COVID-19 test in order to return to campus. Additionally, all of its institutions are currently requiring masks to be worn indoors, unless actively eating or drinking. Some institutions have even begun requiring employees, students and other visitors to campus to wear the more effective KN95 masks, and others are considering implementing the same measure, Lurie said.

Individual universities will release further details about how they plan to implement the mandate and other spring 2022 pandemic safety measures.

Although only residential students are required to receive an additional shot, the university system’s announcement noted that it “strongly encourages” all staff, faculty and students to receive the shot as soon as they are eligible. The CDC recommends those who received the Pfizer vaccine to get a booster five months after their initial two shots, those who received the Moderna vaccine to get a booster six months after their initial shots, and those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to get a booster two months after their initial shot.