COVID-19 follow-up from Aug. 9 faculty/staff town hall

Aug. 10, 2021

Dear faculty and staff,

Thanks again to the many people who participated in Monday’s Town Hall or watched the recording. The college is grateful for your commitment to staying informed and for bringing forward key questions.

Several items may benefit from further clarification.

Why is our stance on COVID vaccination “strongly recommended?”
St. Norbert is not, at this time, requiring COVID vaccination, but the college’s unapologetic aim is to have as many people vaccinated as safely can be. The college recognizes that those unable to be safely vaccinated are typically a very small percentage. The question then becomes how best to reach that aim? 

Most organizations requiring vaccination are honoring the exemptions allowed in their state. The state of Wisconsin supports three criteria for exemption: medical, religious and “personal conviction.” That third category is quite broad and, in the polarized discussions around COVID, is available for use by those who object to the vaccine for any number of reasons.

Given our state’s three exemptions as well as the fact that, to date, COVID vaccines are only approved under emergency-use authorization, college leadership’s conclusion was that it would be most effective to educate and incentivize vaccination rather than mandate. This gives the college a greater opportunity to continue informing community members – who may be opposed to vaccination at this time – of the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and to encourage them to take action. The college believes this approach will allow us to achieve our primary goal of having as many students vaccinated as possible.

How are we working to keep our community safe?
Alongside the college’s stance of “strongly recommended” are safety measures implemented in the interest of all community members, those vaccinated and unvaccinated. A nimble posture of responding to the transmission levels in Brown County is one such measure. As you know, with current high levels of transmission, the college has resumed universal masking. In addition, certain measures are required only of unvaccinated students: entry testing, regular surveillance testing and required quarantine when identified as a close contact. Our campus effort to improve air quality is yet another safety measure. These measures are in place to safeguard all members of our community.

How many students are vaccinated?
Health Services can share a bit more information about the current vaccination levels among SNC students. It should be noted that the college’s confidential medical records server, Medicat, does interface with the Wisconsin Immunization Registry. However, it’s not a real-time interface, so it is possible a student has been fully immunized in Wisconsin, but our records do not yet reflect this. Furthermore, the college has no interface with out-of-state registries. To counter this, the college expects students to upload their immunization record to inform Health Services that they are fully vaccinated for COVID-19. Health Services expects there may be fully immunized students who have not yet done so, but once they are contacted about missing entry testing or their need for surveillance testing, they likely will see to it that Health Services receives their information.

With all that to better frame current data, as of Monday’s records inquiry, which took place after the town hall, Health Services can share this:

  • 1,162 students (56%) have a record of full immunization.
  • An additional 287 students have a record of the first dose of a two-dose series (either Pfizer or Moderna).
  • The number of students with no vaccine on record dropped by 135 in the past week (from 766 on Aug. 2 to 631 on Aug. 9). Presumably, a fair number of these may have moved into the first-dose number.
  • We are aware that these numbers total more than our enrollment. It should be noted that graduate students are captured in these numbers. Beyond that, the college expects the total number of students to become clearer by the fall census date.

Can we know who is vaccinated?
The college expects all vaccinated students to share evidence of their immunization, and the main incentives to do so are that one will no longer be required to submit to entry and surveillance testing or to quarantine as a close contact. As President Bruess described yesterday, the reason the college has refrained from requiring a declination form – a document through which a student indicates they do not intend to be vaccinated – is that doing so has a potential downside of prematurely solidifying a decision of someone who might otherwise be open to change. This can be particularly true for the developmental stage of undergraduate students.

Health Services is collecting proof of COVID vaccination. This data is stored in our HIPAA-compliant medical records system. Health Services is sharing aggregated data on a weekly basis, to help inform our risk-mitigation strategies; the office is not legally allowed to share specific individual data without expressed permission from each student. Therefore, a faculty member teaching a course section or a staff member working with a team or student group cannot be informed by Health Services of the vaccination status of each student. As previously shared, there may be programs that ask students directly about their vaccination status in order to appropriately prepare for activities. 

What are we doing to encourage student vaccination?
Starting in July, students with no record of vaccination have been regularly contacted by the college. Health Services will continue to offer easy access to COVID vaccines on campus, as long as the office receives vaccines from the state. And the college is working to provide incentives at both the individual and group levels, informed by a survey to which 350 students responded. Individual incentives include items such as two tickets to a Packers home game and free spring semester campus parking, as well as smaller incentives like college swag and free food. Communal incentives are intended to allow community members to celebrate together when the college reaches a certain vaccination level (yet to be determined). Students overwhelmingly indicated a campus-wide celebration would be of most interest when the college reaches the appropriate level.

What about faculty/staff vaccination records?
Health Services continues to remind faculty and staff that if they were vaccinated outside the state of Wisconsin, they should upload their vaccine documentation through the Medicat patient portal. This will ensure they are included in the college’s aggregate employee vaccination numbers.

We hope this information helps shed additional light on some key and important questions you may have. As always, you are encouraged to bring questions to your vice president or dean, or to share them via covid19response@snc.edu.