URBANA — Am I allowed to require even vaccinated individuals to wear face coverings in my unit or office?
That’s perhaps the prevailing COVID-19-related question the University of Illinois has received from its faculty and staff ahead of the fall 2021 semester.
“You may request that any attendees wear a face covering even if they are not vaccinated,” Chancellor Robert Jones said during a university webinar Monday. “That doesn’t mean they have to comply.”
His suggestions: Get a bigger meeting room or go outside. Make the meeting remote if you must.
As the plans for the UI’s second COVID-19-era fall return begin to crystallize, school officials are hammering out the details of work and decorum with a largely-vaccinated campus population.
Virus-related restrictions and practices are starting to ease at a university that brought one of the nation’s most ambitious COVID-19 response plans into reality, administering tens of thousands of tests per week for two straight semesters.
“We will have a chance to — I won’t say get back to normal — but implement a new normal,” Jones said at Monday’s senate executive committee meeting.
Speaking of new normal, the university isn’t deciding which workers will have to work in person, hybrid or remotely. That responsibility will be turned over to the school’s individual units.
All university cohorts were required to share their return-to-work plans by July 16 and will have the next couple weeks to clarify any details.
“We had a responsibility not to try and issue mandates and edicts, but to defer that responsibility to the unit leaders, because they best know the job function, the job categories, and to engage in dialogues and conversations with employees about what type of arrangement would make the most sense,” Jones said.
“We felt very strongly that the notion of bringing 95 to 100 percent of people back to the same location to do the same work would’ve meant we didn’t learn a darn thing from COVID-19.”
Students, faculty and staff who are fully vaccinated — and upload their vaccination card to the McKinley Health Center online portal — won’t have to continue the UI’s on-campus saliva testing program.
Rules for unvaccinatedThose who are “unable” to get fully vaccinated, for whatever reason, will still have to wear a mask, maintain social distancing and continue testing for the virus at an even higher frequency than last year.
Starting Aug. 2, unvaccinated graduate students, faculty and staff must test twice per week. Unvaccinated undergrads must test every other day. If students who do not have a verified vaccination record miss two tests in a row, they’ll be referred to student discipline, Provost Andreas Cangellaris said.
Other university COVID-19 items, like the wellness support associates who monitored the entrances of academic buildings, are being modified for the new year.
Since fall will consist of almost entirely in-person classes, “it is not physically possible from a staffing perspective to have WSAs presented at every instructional building for every class that we offer,” Jones said.
Some WSAs will be doing “spot checking” every weekday at different classroom buildings to cover more bases, Jones said.
Campus individuals used the Safer Illinois app to show whether they met the testing requirement to be let into academic buildings, and that app will still be in use.
The app will show “building access granted” if the user has uploaded a vaccine card or kept up with required testing, but the app won’t disclose which option the user has selected.
‘None of my business’And university officials are clear: Whether you’re talking to a coworker, boss, student or teacher, “don’t get into the conversation” about vaccination status.
“It’s really none of my business whether you’re vaccinated or not,” said Deb Stone, interim associate vice chancellor for human resources. “The conversation about vaccination status — it’s private health information. There’s no place for it, because we have an alternative model through our testing and face coverings.”
Official vaccination records are stored solely in the McKinley Health database and nowhere else in university records, just like other vaccinations. More than 37,000 members of the campus community had received at least one dose of a vaccine as of late June.
Since Jan. 1, 2021, 49,782 people tested for COVID-19 on campus. Using that as a baseline, 74.6 percent of campus got at least one shot by mid-June. About 71 percent of undergrads had received one dose: fewer than the 77 percent of staff and faculty who’d gotten a shot, and 84 percent of grad students.
However, Stone warned, plenty of these people may opt to wear a mask due to “varying comfort levels” with returning to in-person activity.
“We should not make any assumptions about a person’s vaccination status,” Stone said. “We should not assume that the fact that someone is wearing a mask means they’re unvaccinated.”