KINGSTON, R.I. — Faculty and staff at the University of Rhode Island have until Oct. 15 to show proof they’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19 or that they have an exemption, the university announced this week.
The move applies to full and part-time faculty and non-classified staff.
URI required all its students to receive a vaccination before the start of the school year. Those who are exempt must get tested twice weekly.
The announcement came during Gov. Dan McKee’s visit to URI Sept. 2 to give a weekly update on COVID-19. Joining the governor were Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, Rhode Island Department of Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott, Executive Director of the COVID-19 Response Tom McCarthy, Postsecondary Education Commissioner Shannon Gilkey and URI President Marc Parlange.
“The more people who get vaccinated the better we’re going to be in terms of recovering from this pandemic,” McKee said. “Here at URI the Rams are doing it right, and we encourage others to do the same.”
Due to the delta COVID variant’s spread, URI also instituted an indoor masking policy regardless of vaccination status, joining the state’s K-12 schools and other colleges.
“They stepped up at the same time URI did,” McKee said. “There’s a strong testing structure in place, and now even more people on campus will be vaccinated.”
He also said the influx of vaccinated students would give a boost to the local economy after last year, when classes moved online and businesses suffered.
Faculty and non-classified staff who are licensed health providers are covered under the Department of Health’s requirement for immunization against COVID-19, which requires health care workers to be vaccinated by Oct. 1. While the new vaccine mandate does not apply to classified employees, URI is asking classified staff to voluntarily upload their COVID-19 vaccine certificates through a patient portal.
The university is holding free vaccination clinics for campus community members on its Kingston campus through the end of September.
McKee and Parlange touted URI’s student vaccination campaign, which Parlange said resulted in more than 98% of students becoming partially or fully vaccinated, or receiving an approved exemption. Of that group, 6%, or about 1,000, have an approved exemption and 94% are partially or fully vaccinated.
“We are prepared for a near normal fall, with students beginning to join us this week,” Parlange said. “We’re going to have more than 17,000 students by the time classes start on Sept. 8.”
One of them, Laura Wong, is a doctor of physical therapy student.
“It’s been such a difficult year for us as students and I really think that everyone here has taken the necessary measures to allow us to be here and feel safe, and not have to worry about our health while in classes,” she said. “Being a doctor of physical therapy student, it’s so important for us to have in-person classes.”
The vaccine requirement allows such students to have much-needed hands-on experience in the classroom and while working with clinicians, she said.
McKee noted 83.9% of Rhode Islanders age 18 or older have received at least one shot. “And I still have my eye on the 90% in our adult population. That’s why we want to highlight institutions like URI for putting protocols in place that help get more Rhode Islanders vaccinated.”
URI has established a process for exemptions to the vaccine as well.
Faculty and staff who are not vaccinated can file a formal request for an exemption for documented medical conditions or “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Those granted exemptions must participate in twice per week mandatory surveillance testing and stay physically distant from others.
Those who receive exemptions will be required to quarantine or isolate if they become exposed to or test positive for COVID-19. They will be required to stay home for the duration of the isolation/quarantine time.
The university also said it will work with any faculty and staff member, including employees who are foreign nationals, who have not been vaccinated or may have received a vaccine that is not approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or the World Health Organization to ensure they have access to vaccines at URI or a local vaccination center.
URI also announced the opening of a COVID-19 surveillance testing center in the Memorial Union for individuals who do not have symptoms. Non-vaccinated members of the campus community must get tested twice weekly.