What will fall semester look like? Universities plan return to campus, urge vaccinations


By Mackenzi Klemann - mklemann@limanews.com



LIMA — The University of Northwestern Ohio hosted an immunization clinic on campus earlier this month to encourage students to get their coronavirus shot. But the university is not mandating students or faculty be vaccinated before returning to campus in the fall, opting instead to promote immunizations and wait to see how the situation looks several months from now.

Ohio Northern University has adopted a similar stance, bucking a small but growing trend of universities and college campuses in the U.S. that may ask students to show proof of vaccination before coming back to campus in August.

“We’re strongly encouraging students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated, but we’re not mandating it at this point,” said Stephanie Malloy, vice president of marketing and public relations for the University of Northwestern Ohio.

Malloy said the university is regularly providing students and staff with information about the vaccines but has stopped short of requiring them because “it’s a personal choice.”

Roughly 25% of Ohioans between the ages of 20-29 have been partially or fully vaccinated, and another 109,000 teenagers ages 16-19 have also gotten a coronavirus shot since eligibility expanded to younger Ohioans in late March, according to Ohio Department of Health data.

But in Allen County, uptake among younger adults is much lower, with only 12% of adults 20-29 vaccinated.

Fall semester could be ‘close to normal’

The Ohio State University-Lima campus intends to offer at least 75% of its classes in person by fall semester, with most of those classrooms returning to full student capacity, a positive change for students who have been attending classes virtually for most of the school year.

The vaccine rollout gives the university confidence that campus life will resume by fall, said Bryan Albright, assistant dean of student and community engagement at OSU-Lima.

The Lima campus is already planning to resume in-person alumni and admissions events, along with other student life activities that have been virtual this school year.

Ohio Northern University is also anticipating a relatively normal campus experience, as the university plans to offer as many in-person operations as possible.

Still, plans will likely evolve as Ohio’s vaccination effort progresses and Covid-19 rates fluctuate.

Schools have not yet decided whether mask mandates will remain in effect, and some campuses are still debating whether coronavirus vaccinations should be required for students to be back on campus.

“It’s really a moving target,” Malloy said. “Things could change next week. Things could stay the same. So, we just have to constantly check in with all the deciding entities and make sure we’re following all the guidelines that are in place.”

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By Mackenzi Klemann

mklemann@limanews.com

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