Vaccine Requirements Vary at Michigan Universities as Virus Cases Rise

Michigan’s two largest state universities are requiring students and staff to be vaccinated for COVID-19 before returning to school this fall, but other state schools are so far leaving the choice open to students and employees, Corp! Magazine found.

That includes at least six of Michigan’s 13 state universities that have declined to impose a vaccine mandate to blunt rising COVID-19 cases: Central Michigan University, Western Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University, Ferris State University, Grand Valley State University and Northern Michigan University, according to the schools.

Although COVID-19 cases have dropped precipitously since April as more and more people get vaccinated, new cases have been on the rise since July — mostly among people who have not been vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, state and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows.

About 57 percent of Michigan’s population have been vaccinated, which is close to the national average of 58 percent. The CDC has advised — but not required — that people resume wearing masks indoors within 33 of 83 Michigan counties where virus transmission rate remains high. Those counties include close to half of the state’s population, the Detroit News reported.

With cases rising among unvaccinated Michigan residents, the six state universities are all encouraging vaccination. But they stopped short of making that a requirement.

“Central Michigan University is an authorized vaccination site, and we’ve vaccinated many students, staff and faculty already,” Heather Smith, a spokeswoman for the university, said in a statement. “Getting vaccinated is ultimately a personal choice and we support everyone’s decision to make that determination for themselves.”

Communications officials at Western Michigan University did not respond to emails from Corp! Magazine for this story.

Walter Kraft, a spokesman for EMU, said in a statement that although keeping COVID-19 cases low remains a priority for university officials and they are “strongly encouraging” vaccination, it is not a requirement at this point.

“Our determined and wide-ranging efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on our campus over the 16-17 months have kept our case counts among the lowest of any university in the state,” Kraft said in a statement. “We are focused on continuing those safe practices and are entering the fall semester with a range of precautions in place that include the wearing of masks in all classrooms when class is in session by students, faculty and staff, and maintaining three-foot physical distancing.”

As part of that effort, administrators are requiring masks indoors for students and staff who aren’t vaccinated, unless they’re alone in an office or residence hall room.

“We believe these practices, along with our continued robust contact tracing and testing protocols, will provide a safe experience to our campus community,” Kraft continued.

The decision sets them apart from MSU and U-M, two Big Ten schools that both announced last week students and faculty who are not vaccinated would not be permitted to return to in-person classes on campus. It’s part of an effort to blunt the recent rise of COVID-19 cases as the Delta variant begins taking hold nationwide.

At least six other smaller Michigan colleges also are making vaccinations a partial requirement for coming back to school, MLive reported. Wayne State University announced Tuesday the school is also mandating vaccinations.

“To best protect the health and safety of our campus community, Wayne State will require all students, faculty and staff who plan to be on campus during the fall semester to receive their COVID-19 vaccination,” university president Roy Wilson said in a letter to students, parents and staff. 

Like MSU and U-M, Wayne State students and faculty will have to submit proof they’ve been vaccinated by Aug. 30 to return to campus, according to Wilson’s letter. A waiver is available in some cases to students or staff “based on legitimate health or religious reasons,” subject to review from university officials, the letter said.

“Throughout the pandemic, we have been committed to following the latest science and responding in a manner that prioritizes the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff,” Wilson continued. “I believe this mandate does just that, and will allow us to continue with plans for more in-person classes and events while still providing effective protection for our community.”

Many schools also are continuing to require that masks be worn indoors, even for vaccinated students or staff.

But Grand Valley State University and Ferris State are not among them, according to the schools’ websites. At GVSU, vaccinated students and university employees can skip the mask, though unvaccinated people are required to wear one indoors. Ferris State, meanwhile, rescinded the mask requirement for all students and staff regardless of vaccination status after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration rolled back the mask requirement statewide.

Northern Michigan is still requiring masks, but is not at this point requiring a vaccine.

“But Northern strongly recommends that students and employees get vaccinated since the University will not lift pandemic restrictions until there is a high percentage of the on-campus population vaccinated,” the university said.