usu students

USU students walk across campus during the first day of the spring semester Monday.

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Vaccination rates among Utah State University students have remained steady as they return to school, showing little change from percentages before the break.

USU announced a vaccination requirement last August for the coming spring 2022 semester, asking students to fill out vaccine declarations claiming vaccination, intent or exemption. As spring semester began on Monday, 24,518 students had completed their declarations, according to USU spokesperson Emilie Wheeler. Of those students, 84% were fully vaccinated, vaccinated but missing documentation, or said they would be fully vaccinated by semester’s start on Jan. 10.

Wheeler said a number of students had called in, unable to schedule their second dose before the deadline, worried their classes would be dropped.

“That’s absolutely not happening. This is just an effort to get people vaccinated, not to be punitive,” she said, adding that USU is providing on-campus clinics for all stages of vaccination.

Of the declarations, 14% claimed exemptions: 344 for medical, 429 for religious and 3,322 for personal reasons. None of the exemptions required documentation, though there was an entry box in which students could enter an optional statement along with the declaration.

Exempt students have no restrictions for the semester, allowing them to attend classes in person. These conditions comply with a Utah law enacted last spring delineating the boundaries of coronavirus responses by institutions of higher education.

In addition to requiring exemptions, the law prohibits public universities from implementing mask requirements. Another law limits what percentage of classes can move online.

Since USU has a significant online-only out-of-state student body, a group not required to comply with the vaccination rule, the precise percentage of students who have completed their declaration is unclear. Monday’s numbers, however, are not too far off from where they were in December, Wheeler said.

As of early December, 92% of USU students statewide had completed the vaccine declaration, according to a university release. Of those, 85% said they were fully vaccinated or planned to be by semester’s start, just 1% higher than current rates.

There have been 250 current cases reported at the university since the year began. On Monday, USU reported 18 new on-campus cases and 73 new off-campus, bringing spring cases among students to 194.

On Dec. 9, 2021, the school reported 71 active cases heading into the winter break. Between students, faculty and staff, there have been 4,467 cases recorded at USU since March 2020.

USU will naturally experience a jolt in cases as students, faculty and staff return to school, but it remains to be seen whether the omicron variant will cause major disruptions.

“If you see our COVID numbers, our case counts on our website, we’ve already started to see an increase. Whether that corresponds with people coming back to class and school and telling us when they have a positive case, or whether that’s the new variant, it’s kind of up for debate. But I would suspect it’s a little of both,” Wheeler said. “There’s a broad expectation that we will see an increased number of cases over the next few weeks.”

The university is entering its fifth semester grappling with the coronavirus, as the United States nears its third year under an ever-evolving pandemic. COVID-19 cases rose sharply across the country through December in the wake of the omicron variant and travel over the holidays, peaking late last week.

As of Jan. 10, the Bear River Health Department reported 70,628 immunizations for Cache County, 68.8% of eligible individuals. Cases in the Bear River area have been rising over the past two weeks, mirroring national trends.

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