University to attest vaccination status, but many worry the form is not enough

Some students and staff ask for a stronger vaccine mandate and more COVID-19 protections.

The+Cedar-River+People%E2%80%99s+Center+Clinics+and+Services+stands+vacant+in+Cedar+Riverside+on+Thursday%2C+Feb.+11.+The+Peoples+Center+has+been+offering+COVID-19+vaccines+to+seniors.

Parker Johnson

The Cedar-River People’s Center Clinics and Services stands vacant in Cedar Riverside on Thursday, Feb. 11. The People’s Center has been offering COVID-19 vaccines to seniors.

Hanna Van Den Einde

The University of Minnesota released its COVID-19 attestation form, but students and staff worry that a self-reporting model will not protect against the virus.

The University announced that it would be requiring the COVID-19 vaccination for students on Aug. 23 following the FDA approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Students are required to confirm their vaccination status through a self-submitted attestation form. COVID-19 vaccinations are not required for staff and faculty, but the University is asking them to confirm that they have received the vaccine or will conduct regular testing.

Many have concerns about returning to campus, including if it is possible for students to falsify the form and lie about their vaccination status. Students who falsify this information are in violation of the student conduct code and are subject to disciplinary action depending on each case.

David Golden, director of public health and communications at Boynton Health, was in charge of leading the effort for the vaccination form. Golden said they mirrored immunization requirements for other mandatory vaccines, such as the MMR vaccine, that allow self-reporting.

“Generally when we’ve done this, we find that people are pretty accurate about giving us information,” Golden said. “We wanted to make it as barrier-free as possible. Some people don’t have their cards, and we did want to make it so they could look up in their schedule and see when they were vaccinated and by who.”

Golden said the University is relying on people’s integrity and honesty, but it also has access to state databases that track immunizations to perform spot checks if necessary.

Students are required to attest by Oct. 8 that they have received a COVID-19 vaccination and list the dates that they received the vaccine. Faculty and staff are required to confirm that they received the vaccine, but don’t have to include the dates. If they testify that they are not vaccinated, they are required to take the COVID-19 test every week as long as they are working at the University.

Staff and faculty who do not agree to one of these options by Sept. 17 are subject to employment discipline, which University leadership has not further specified.

Cherrene Horazuk, executive officer and administrative specialist at the Humphrey School and president of AFSCME Local 3800, a union, said the vaccine attestation form is inadequate.

“​​If the point of this is to encourage vaccination and encourage a higher vaccination rate and ensure safety and health for everybody who’s on campus there has to be teeth to this,” Horazuk said.

Horazuk is one of over 600 University members who signed a letter to President Joan Gabel asking for a stronger vaccine mandate, stronger mitigation measures and other increased COVID-19 protection measures. The letter also petitioned for more sick leave protections, clearer guidance on mask enforcement and adequate ventilation.

Dr. Rebecca Wurtz, an associate professor in the School of Public Health, said people who spend time on campus can take certain steps to protect themselves from exposure to the virus.

“If you’re particularly concerned about [exposure] wear an N95 mask and spend your exposure time being in class, not socializing,” Wurtz said. “The less that you’re in group situations the less exposure you have.”

Students who do not submit the form will have a pause placed on their student account and will be prohibited from registering for classes for spring semester. Since this does not prohibit students from registering for or attending fall semester classes, Horazuk is concerned about COVID-19 spread.

“That’s a whole semester of folks potentially coming onto campus who have not been vaccinated, which is a high risk,” Horazuk said. “Our number one concern is how to ensure that people who are studying and working and teaching on campus are doing so in the safest possible environment. That’s the obligation that the University has to provide for everybody.”