Once again, Wake Forest and Duke Universities are appearing side-by-side in news headlines. This time, however, the rival schools are not being celebrated for the kind of shots taken from behind the three-point line, but the ones that go in arms.
On April 9, Duke announced that all returning students will be required to get vaccinated before coming back to campus in the fall. This Tuesday, Wake Forest followed suit.
In an email sent on behalf of President Nathan O. Hatch, Provost Rogan Kersh and Vice President for Campus Life Penny Rue, the university stated that the school intends to require “all students (undergraduate, graduate and professional school) enrolled in classes or participating in in-person activities on any of our campuses and in study abroad/away [to] provide documentation of an FDA-authorized vaccination.”
This proof of vaccination needs to be submitted via the Student Health Service portal by July 1.
Vice President of University Advancement Mark Petersen expressed excitement about the opportunities for in-person community building that campus-wide vaccination will provide.
“Once you have everybody covered in the community, you have so much more flexibility,” Petersen said. “So, as we think about the fall and getting everybody back here and able to take advantage of a fully vaccinated community, we’ll have the ability to do so much more. That’s highly desirable for all of us.”
Petersen also shared that, according to SneezSafe data, roughly two-thirds of the student population has already gotten at least their first dose of the vaccine, and around three-fourths of faculty and staff have, as well.
With university campus gates returning to their regular, pre-COVID-19 operating status on May 1, visitor policies being relaxed and testing being scaled back from full-campus, mandatory testing to 1,500 random tests per week, the school continues to inch closer to functioning as it did pre-pandemic.
But there is still work that needs to be done.
Petersen explained that, while the expectation is that Wake Forest will return to Green operating status in the fall, many safety measures will need to remain in place.
Even with the entirety of the student body vaccinated, mask-wearing will likely be enforced — at least for the first portion of the fall semester. Though with CDC guidance shifting daily, administrators will not know exactly which policies will be in place for months.
“Two months ago, we were still recovering from that big surge,” Petersen said. “We didn’t even know whether we’d be able to get half of our population vaccinated before the end of the semester. Now, we’re in a pretty good position.”
When asked her thoughts on the university requiring all students to be vaccinated before returning to campus, junior Grace Sullivan echoed Petersen’s sentiments.
“As a private university, Wake has every right to require the COVID-19 vaccine,” Sullivan said. “To be honest, I feel a lot more comfortable with a vaccine requirement. It’ll speed up the process of getting things back to normal, but I understand that it can be controversial for those who might not trust vaccines.”
In an attempt to minimize controversy, the university has made clear that requests for medical and religious exemptions will be reviewed. However, these exemptions will not apply to students studying abroad or away from Reynolda Campus.
Students who have not yet received a vaccine are encouraged to get the shot as soon as possible. Currently, all individuals above the age of 16 are eligible to receive the vaccine in North Carolina, but this is not yet the case in other places. Vaccination opportunities are available through the Forsyth County Public Health Department, Wake Forest Baptist Health, Novant Health, Walgreens and CVS. The university also plans to assist international students who may have received a vaccine not authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“Walking around campus now, things seem brighter,” Sullivan said, optimism apparent in her voice. “There is hope in the air — people really hope that next year will be the Wake Forest we knew before COVID-19.”