Students can expect to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their peers at football games and walk around the Academic Spine maskless, according to long-awaited health and safety guidance released by UB Thursday.
Things won’t look exactly like they did pre-COVID-19 — unvaccinated students will still need to wear masks and indoor sporting events will be capped at 5,000 people — but they should largely resemble normalcy in the fall.
Gone are the days of social distancing on campus.
Weekly surveillance testing will be a thing of the past for fully vaccinated students and capacity limits will no longer be in effect for outdoor gatherings of any size.
These changes, which were announced in a UBNow article Thursday and approved by SUNY earlier in the week, will go into effect immediately.
“With the virus at an all-time low in Western New York and New York State, and with the high rates of vaccination in our campus community, UB will be fully in person in the fall,” President Satish Tripathi said in the UBNow story.
“We are excited to welcome back to campus our students and our faculty and staff who have been working from home. And, as we return to a much more normal campus experience, the health and safety of our university community continues to be our highest priority, and we remain ready to adjust our plans accordingly.”
Vaccinations required, with exceptions
Students are required to be fully vaccinated in order to take in-person classes or live on campus in the fall, but may qualify for an exemption for religious or personal reasons.
The Food and Drug Administration has authorized three vaccines — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen — for emergency use. These vaccines still require full approval from SUNY and the FDA for the compulsory rule to go into effect.
All students — regardless of vaccination status — are exempt from social distancing rules. Unvaccinated students will be required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test upon return to campus. They will also be required to continue wearing a mask indoors and outdoors on campus. It is unclear how UB intends to enforce compliance.
International students may face hardships in obtaining a vaccine in their home countries, as many regions have yet to open up vaccines for 18-25 year olds. Some countries only offer shots that aren’t approved by the FDA. UB is requiring these students to be inoculated with shots approved by the World Health Organization. The university says it may offer an FDA-approved vaccine to these students during the semester.
“We’re very pleased with our students’ response to the vaccine requirement thus far and we anticipate the number of students who are vaccinated to continue to grow steadily leading up to the fall semester,” Vice President for Student Life Brian Hamluk said in the UBNow piece.
More than 19,000 UB students have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the university.
A return to normal
Students and employees will still be required to complete the Daily Health Check, regardless of their vaccination status.
But nearly everything else — from capacity limits in outdoor venues to social distancing around campus to mask wearing in classrooms and research labs — will return to a state last seen in March 2020, prior to the pandemic.
University officials touted low positivity rates — UB has administered 159,934 tests with only 533 positive results since the beginning of the pandemic — as a reason for the loosening of restrictions. “It’s a big step forward in returning to campus,” the UBNow story reads.
Students will be required to wear masks on the UB Stampede and campus shuttles, regardless of vaccination status, in accordance with federal policy mandating masks on public transportation.
Masks will also be required in certain health care settings, including Student Health Services and the UB Dental Clinic. Students may choose to continue wearing masks, even if they are already vaccinated.
But these are the exceptions, not the rule.
In accordance with previous SUNY guidance, vaccinated students and employees do not have to wear masks in most indoor and outdoor campus settings. This includes classrooms, dining areas, residence halls and research labs.
The fall semester will begin on Aug. 30.
Justin Weiss is the managing editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Justin Weiss is the The Spectrum's managing editor. In his free time, he can be found hiking, playing baseball or throwing things at his TV when his sports teams aren't winning. His words have appeared in Elite Sports New York and the Long Island Herald. He can be found on Twitter @Jwmlb1.