Centralia College will require its instructors, staff and all of its on-campus students to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Monday, Oct. 18, the college recently announced.
The requirement is part of an updated mandate ordered by Gov. Jay Inslee on Aug. 27 that requires all staff, faculty, contractors and volunteers at higher education institutes to be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus by the deadline. It follows similar requirements made for public school and state workers.
Also per the mandate, all students who attend in-person classes or who will be on campus for any reason will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or have an approved religious or medical exemption filed, by Oct. 18. Students unwilling or unable to get the shot will be able to continue their education online.
The college’s fall quarter begins Sept. 20. Masking, regardless of vaccination status, and social distancing will be required on campus.
Students who fail to report or meet the in-person vaccination requirements will be dropped from their classes and have a hold placed on their account, according to the college.
The mandate comes as community colleges across the state see diminished enrollment numbers. With less than two weeks until the start of fall quarter, only about 1,500 of the college’s 10,000 active and eligible students have registered for classes. Colleges during the fall quarter often see their largest population of students.
“It’s so ironic because, at the whole beginning of this, we thought community colleges are going to continue to do really well. In fact, there may be a boon in growth. But it’s been just the opposite nationwide,” said Centralia College Board of Trustees Chair Doris Wood-Brumsickle.
Centralia College will count the number of students it has enrolled on the 10th day of fall instruction. College President Bob Mohrbacher said it would be a “worst-case scenario” if the shortage is predominantly seen in first-year students. Enrollment last year also saw a noticeable dip.
At the same time, the more infectious delta variant has also locked Lewis County in a stranglehold. The county’s rate of infection of 1,005.6 cases per 100,000 people is nearly twice as high as the state average, and the area has seen record rates of hospitalization due to the virus.
The “fifth wave” has also impacted the college.
Despite the summer quarter seeing less on-campus activity, Centralia College has seen a steady number of positive cases from athletes, students, teachers, staff members and people not associated with the college who were on campus.
Since summer classes started on July 6, Centralia College has reported at least 20 instructors and students who have tested positive for the virus and had to be isolated, and at least 43 who have had to quarantine due to being a close contact.
At a hybrid meeting Thursday with the college board of trustees, Mohrbacher and college leaders answered questions from the board and gave details on how they plan to move forward with the mandate.
“This whole situation is stressful and tiring for everybody,” Mohrbacher said. “For faculty and staff, for students, on the fact that the requirements keep changing, the processes keep changing — it is definitely stressful … It’s sort of become par for the course.”
Mohrbacher said the college plans to try and work with its employees and students as much on a case-by-case basis in order to fulfill the requirements as set by the state mandate.
COVID-19 vaccination was at about 86% when self attestation was conducted over the summer on students and staff, Mohrbacher said. Most of the other 14% gave personal or philosophical exemptions, which will no longer be valid under the new state guidelines.
Religious and medical exemptions will be available for students and staff, though. While medical exemptions will require documentation from a doctor, religious exemptions will be given based on a “sincere belief” and won’t be confirmed based on a person’s ties to a religious congregation.
“It’s not a high bar for somebody to show that they have (a held belief),” said Dave Stolier, a senior assistant attorney general with the Washington state Office of the Attorney General.
Of the 1,500 students currently registered for fall, about 400 of them are taking exclusively online courses, said Robert Cox, vice president of students. Of those, about one-third have attested they’ve been fully vaccinated — something that’s not required but is helpful if they plan to come to campus at all.
Cox said the college is still continuing incentives, including financial ones, to get students vaccinated.
Key Dates And Reporting Vaccination or An Exemption
Centralia College students can report that they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19, or file an exemption, on their ctcLink account. More information on the process can be found online at the school’s COVID-19 information page found at www.centralia.edu.
Employees will need to verify their vaccination or exemption and give documentation to the human resources department.
For those seeking a vaccination, the timeline for full inoculation will depend on what vaccine type you get. In order to meet the Oct. 18 deadline, Pfizer recipients must get their first shot no later than Sept. 14, Moderna recipients no later than Sept. 6 and one-shot J&J no later than Oct. 4.
COVID-19 vaccines are free. In order to find a location, visit www.vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov.