By: Sierra Ross Richer
With 82 percent of the student body vaccinated, and an even higher rate among employees, Goshen College may soon become a mask-free campus.
The college announced a vaccination mandate for all of campus when the FDA gave full approval for the Pfizer vaccine in August. The mandate, placed in effect the day students arrived on campus, specified that masks would be required until 90 percent of campus is vaccinated or until “our county is no longer considered to have ‘substantial community transmission’ of the virus by the CDC.”
At the present, thirteen percent of students and employees have yet to report on their vaccination status. Whether the critical 90 percent is reached will depend on how many students and employees receive the medical and religious exemptions offered by the college.
Individuals wishing to apply for an exemption must fill out a form found on the college’s website. To receive a medical exemption, a note from a physician must be provided. Following the state’s recommendation, there are no requirements for the religious exemption.
“It is possible that we wouldn’t get [to 90 percent],” said Jodi Beyeler, vice president for communications and people strategy and a member of the pandemic task force, “and then we would need to face what that means for all of us.”
While the PTF waits for the remaining reports, Beyeler said that they are “seeking to work with everybody,” no matter where they are coming from.
“As a religious institution ourself,” Beyeler said, “there is an understanding that (making choices based on religious convictions) has value and merit and we make room for that for others.”
Even if the requirement for eliminating masks isn’t met, there are many other precautions that have been relaxed this year.
Classes are fully in person. The distance between seats in classrooms has been reduced from six feet to three. Vaccinated students don’t need to undergo weekly testing, and sporting and other events are open once again to spectators.
As herd immunity takes effect and more is learned about the COVID-19 virus, the PTF feels comfortable allowing things to return somewhat to normal. Still, Elkhart County remains in the red zone for community transmission and Beyeler said: “We’re still in the midst of the pandemic. While we may be tired of things like masks and being vigilant, it’s really important.”
Contact tracing continues to be an important mitigation strategy this year, although the protocol for that has also changed. Those who are vaccinated still need to get tested if they are traced to someone who tested positive, but as long as they test negative and don’t show any symptoms, they no longer need to be quarantined. This change will allow for classes and extracurricular activities to proceed much more normally than last year.
As of Tuesday, Sept. 8, there have been a total of five cases reported on campus between students and employees. So far, none of the cases have resulted in outbreaks, Beyeler said. However, some did occur in vaccinated individuals.
“The pandemic keeps evolving,” said Beyeler, “and what we imagined this fall might look like in June feels different than where we’re at today.”
“What we do know,” she added, “is that vaccinations are the best strategy, but we’re not done with other strategies [either].”
Kevin Miller, PTF coordinator last year, has returned to his original position as major gift officer. But the taskforce–which now includes Liz Andes, Jodi Beyeler, Beth Martin Birky, Cynthia Good Kaufmann, Gilberto Perez Jr. and President Rebecca Stoltzfus—plans to continue “giving oversight and monitoring where we’re at and whether we need to make adaptations and changes” for the foreseeable future.