PULLMAN, Wash. – Nearly 90% of Washington State University employees are vaccinated against COVID-19 and student levels are even higher, with infection rates involving the Pullman campus, in particular, declining dramatically compared to a year ago.
“Our vaccination rates are high, and we know it’s the path that gets us through this pandemic,” said WSU President Kirk Schulz. “With a critical state deadline approaching for our employees, we’ve sought to work through pockets of hesitancy and uncertainty with compassion and understanding but with a firm commitment to making sure we’re doing everything possible to deliver a robust in-person educational experience.”
Under Gov. Jay Inslee’s vaccine mandate, all state employees must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or have an approved exemption for documented medical reasons or sincerely held religious beliefs. Those who don’t meet the requirements will be prohibited from engaging in work for the State of Washington, including public universities.
Although the final state deadline is still more than a week away, preliminary compliance figures are available because WSU employees were required to verify their vaccine status by Oct. 4 to be considered fully vaccinated by Oct. 18. Those who sought exemptions were to submit their completed requests by Oct. 4 to provide the university time to evaluate the requests ahead of the state deadline.
Students faced a Sept. 10 deadline for verifying their vaccination status or applying for a medical or religious exemption. Those who fail to comply will be prohibited from enrolling for the upcoming spring semester.
Of the approximately 10,000 full- and part-time WSU employees systemwide, 88% were fully or partially vaccinated as of Oct. 5. Verification efforts are continuing.
For students who have submitted documentation, reported vaccination rates at each of WSU’s five physical campuses are more than 95%. The Pullman and Spokane campuses top the list at 98% each. Most students have either reported their vaccination status or requested an exemption, though percentages vary by campus and are still growing as compliance efforts continue.
Detailed figures for each campus can be found online.
Steep decline in COVID-19 cases involving WSU Pullman
For the Pullman campus, the number of COVID-19 cases involving the WSU community have declined dramatically compared to last fall.
Last year, according to Whitman County Public Health, there were 526 confirmed COVID-19 cases involving members of the WSU Pullman community from Aug. 30 to Sept. 12. During the same period this year, that number dropped to 121 cases.
For the week ending Oct. 6, WSU Pullman had just eight active cases among students, faculty and staff.
Medical and religious exemptions
More than 1,250 requests for medical and religious exemptions have been made by WSU students, faculty and staff. So far, nearly 800 have been approved and the review process is continuing. Final numbers will be available after Oct. 18.
The requests for religious exemptions are evaluated in a “blind” review process, meaning the identities of the individuals requesting exemptions are unknown to the members of the review committee except in instances when additional information is needed through follow-up contact. Separate review committees were created for students and employees.
A panel of faculty and staff from all WSU campuses with expertise in religions, diverse backgrounds, and legal accommodations makes up the committee reviewing student requests.
Employee religious requests are reviewed by a committee consisting of a team from WSU’s Human Resource Services as well as the university’s Office of Civil Rights and Compliance. Employee medical exemption requests are considered by the university’s Disability Services team, which normally handles medical-related leave and accommodation requests.
The Washington Attorney General’s Office is being consulted on criteria WSU is using to decide the exemption requests and providing legal advice to both committees as needed.
Those who requested exemptions were asked to provide supporting information.
For employees, the exemption requests go through a two-step process. The first is the blind review. Then, if an exemption is approved, the request moves to a separate accommodation review step where a determination is made whether the unvaccinated employee will be able to perform their duties without risking the health and safety of the community.
An appeals process is in place for students. Employees are provided the opportunity to supply additional information before final decisions are made.