University updates COVID-19 guidelines for new semester, vaccines

Vaccines+are+available+throughout+Bowling+Green+at+different+Walgreens+locations%2C+CVS+Pharmacies%2C+and+the+Medical+Center+at+Bowling+Green.+Many+places+allow+people+to+make+appointments+online.

Credit: Debra Murray

Vaccines are available throughout Bowling Green at different Walgreens locations, CVS Pharmacies, and the Medical Center at Bowling Green. Many places allow people to make appointments online.

Michael Dylan Payne, News reporter

As classes resume on the Hill, new COVID-19 guidelines have been put in place by WKU’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety and the WKU COVID-19 Task Force.

The updated guidelines include a requirement to wear face coverings inside all WKU facilities, new requirements for COVID-19 reporting on campus and a recommendation for students and staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Healthy on the Hill guidelines. 

Vaccine Promotion

Vaccine promotion is one of two new key components of the new Healthy in the Hill guidelines, with the university announcing a vaccine incentive package for students, staff and faculty worth over $90,000 according to the WKU COVID-19 Task Force. 

David Oliver, director of environmental health and safety, said getting the COVID-19 vaccine is the most effective and safest way to protect the WKU community.

“We have developed a database with IT that is voluntary, where folks can submit proof of vaccination into that system,” Oliver said.  “We’re going to start drawing in a couple weeks, winners each week from both students as well as faculty and staff, for a list of incentive prizes for those that have submitted proof of vaccination.”

The incentives include 10 iPad Pros, 200 WKU Store Gift Cards, 25 $1,000 cash awards, five $500 book scholarships, and five full-time in-state tuition scholarships worth $5,496 each, according to an email from the WKU COVID Task Force and Response Team.

As part of the entry, students and faculty agree to allow WKU nurse case managers to verify their vaccination status to determine eligibility, with the goal of collecting aggregate data to determine the vaccination rate of the WKU community, according to Oliver.

“(The incentive program) is open to graduate and undergraduate students,” Oliver said.  “We used an undergraduate tuition as one of the prizes and if a grad student wins that, they’ll get the same amount equivalent to undergraduate tuition.”

As for requiring a COVID-19 vaccine to be part of the WKU community—something many campuses throughout the nation have done—it’s not something Oliver said the university is currently considering. 

“Caboni and the leadership team have been very clear that we are not mandating [vaccines] now,” Oliver said.  “WKU does not have a vaccination mandate, nor do we have one in discussion or in the works.”

The university’s goal is to incentivize as many people as possible to get vaccinated and continue to aggressively manage cases as they arrive, and if it’s mandated by the state things will change, Oliver said.

A vaccine mandate may also be required once the vaccine has received final approval from the Food and Drug Administration, with current vaccines being administered under FDA emergency use guidelines, Oliver said.

In the time since this interview, FDA Approval has been granted to Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccines for individuals over the age of 16, according to a press release from the FDA. 

Individuals who are hesitant to get the vaccine are encouraged to consult with a healthcare professional, Oliver said.

“What I tell folks is to talk to your personal physician, and if you don’t have one, talk to a physician and let them lay it out for you,” Oliver said.  “The vast majority of people should get the vaccine, but it’s something you may need to hear from a healthcare professional first hand.”

Return of indoor masking

On May 14, President Timothy Caboni sent an email to students and faculty announcing the elimination of the mask requirement for vaccinated individuals effective immediately. However, WKU’s time maskless lasted only two months because on Aug. 4, Caboni announced in an email that masking indoors would again be a requirement at WKU, beginning on Aug. 9. 

An important part of the new guidelines that has changed from the summer is the return of the masking mandate inside all WKU buildings, Oliver said.

“I am a firm believer in the mask piece and our compliance through last fall and last spring really made a difference,” Oliver said.  “I saw first hand in dealing with these cases, and I firmly believe masks made a difference.”

Last year in the fall and spring, only four WKU students who reside on campus went to the hospital because of COVID-19, only one was admitted for a day and a half and then brought back to campus to isolate, according to Oliver.

These hospitalizations only include students that live on campus, and do not include faculty or off-campus cases, which are likely not to have been reported to WKU, but the low number is a feat Oliver largely attributes to masking at WKU. 

“This mandate of masks was not an easy thing for anybody to do,” Oliver said. “I think when you start bringing people back into indoor settings it really does make a difference.”

Daily health checks

Another returning guideline from last year is daily health checks before coming to campus, according to the WKU COVID Task Force.

Everyone is encouraged to do a self assessment daily looking for common symptoms of COVID-19 including fever, cough, shortness of breath, congestion or runny nose, muscle or body aches and others, according to the updated guidelines. 

“When you get up in the morning, do that self assessment,” Oliver said.  “A lot of what they see with this is like allergies—throat and upper respiratory issues with a low grade fever—if you have those symptoms don’t come into class, go get tested.”

Reporting requirements

The other new guideline for 2021 is a requirement for all WKU faculty, staff, students and contractors to report positive COVID-19 cases or close contacts with positive cases to the WKU COVID Hotline within four hours of notification regardless of vaccination status, according to the new policy. 

A non-symptomatic person who is vaccinated does not have to quarantine, although they still must contact WKU COVID Hotline, and submit proof of vaccination, Oliver said. 

All students who test positive or are identified as having been in contact with a positive COVID case should call 270-745-2019 immediately, Oliver said. 

“We’re never going to please everyone,” Oliver said. “But I think it’s important that we find the right reasonable middle ground to make people safe, and still be able to move forward and keep the university experience and that’s really what we’re trying to do.”

The entire policy can be found here and any updates will be shared with the WKU community as they happen. 

Michael Dylan Payne can be reached at [email protected].  Follow him on Twitter at @dylan_payne