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Ohio Public Universities Approach Another COVID-19 Fall Semester


Tuesday, August 24, 2021   

By Kennedi Combs
Broadcast version by Mary Schuermann reporting for the Kent State-Ohio News Connection Collaboration.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As the Delta variant sweeps across the state, Ohio's public universities are taking a range of protective measures for the upcoming fall semester, from requiring students to report their vaccination status to implementing incentive programs to motivate students to get vaccinated.

All 14 state universities are requiring masks indoors for the fall semester, according to an examination of COVID prevention procedures as explained on schools' websites.

Universities - including Kent State University, Bowling Green State University, Miami University, and The Ohio State University - have implemented incentive programs for all students who are vaccinated and report their vaccination to their university. Vaccinated students are entered into raffles for the chance to win prizes on a weekly basis.

Some including Shawnee State University, University of Cincinnati, Wright State University, Miami University, and Youngstown State University - are offering all three vaccines for students, staff, and faculty on their campus.

Kent State University is requiring face masks to be worn regardless of vaccination status during all indoor activities. Along with this rule, KSU has also put an incentives program into effect for vaccinated students. All Kent State students who are vaccinated and register their vaccination on the University Health Services website are eligible to win prizes in twice-weekly drawings. The drawings take place through Oct. 12; prizes include free tuition for a semester, free room and board for a semester, a kayaking trip, Homecoming concert tickets, Beats headphones, and Apple Watches.

However, sophomore journalism major Jayla Forest thinks vaccinations aren't enough. "There are people who are vaccinated who are still contracting COVID," said Forest, who received the Moderna vaccine last May. "And honestly, even though they have rules and restrictions, not everyone is going to follow those rules and restrictions. So, I don't really know if being vaccinated is enough to go back on campus and become normal again."

Cleveland State University also requires students, faculty and staff to wear face coverings for the upcoming semester, and encourages students to get vaccinated. On its website, the school expresses a commitment to following CDC guidelines. It also lists exceptions and accommodations to the mask mandate for certain situations, such as when eating in the dining hall, when a student is alone in their residence hall room with a roommate, or when a person has been granted a university-approved medical or religious accommodation to not wear a mask.

"On a scale of one to 10, I feel like a 'six'as far as how safe I am on campus," said Jordan Hill, a sophomore engineering major at CSU."When they open up campus completely, I would give it within a month before there's a spike in cases, and we all have to go remote again."

Unlike all the other public universities in Ohio that just encourage students to register their vaccination status, the University of Akron is requiring students to report it.

"In order for the University to make informed decisions about COVID-19 and to further facilitate contact tracing, we are requiring all members of the campus community (faculty, contract professionals, staff and students) to report their vaccination status by August 20," said spokesperson Cristine Boyd in an email. "All members of the campus community who are unvaccinated or do not confirm their vaccination status will be subject to up-to-weekly testing, beginning the week of August 16 (employees) and August 30 (students)."

Boyd added the university will provide remote classes to accommodate students. "We currently have a variety of options available for classes, including in-person, hybrid and fully online as we try to meet the needs of all students," she wrote. "Not all courses are guaranteed to be available online."

Incoming University of Akron freshman Romeo Pitts-Medley appreciates the university's commitment to keeping students safe. "I think it's a really good idea that they are keeping track of who is unvaccinated and making them get tested," he said. "It's the only way to keep everyone as safe as possible with the delta variant on the loose."

Ohio has seen 1,180,986 total coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic. With 64,215 hospitalizations and 20,689 deaths, more and more Ohioans are making the decision to get vaccinated. Half the state's population, 51.22%, has received a vaccination. Of Ohioans ages 12-18, 59.87 % are vaccinated, while the vaccination rate is 62.15% for adults 18 and older.

This collaboration is produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.

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