October 16, 2021

SUNY to mandate vaccinations

Students attending in-person class in fall will be required to get shot

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Ubense Rivera, a freshman at SUNY Cortland, walks through the college’s campus Thursday. All students at SUNY and CUNY schools, unless exempt for religious or medical reasons, will be required to get the COViD-19 vaccine to attend in-person learning in the fall.

SUNY Cortland freshman Ubense Rivera said Thursday he was vaccinated against COVID-19 but his classmates who aren’t will need to be by the start of the fall semester if they hope to take in-person classes.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this week that all SUNY and CUNY students wanting to learn in-person for the fall will need to be vaccinated.

“There is no factual argument against the vaccine, and there is no excuse not to get your shot,” Cuomo said in a news release. “This vaccine is the weapon that will help us win the war on COVID, and so I urge everyone who still needs to take it to do so quickly at one of our many sites across the state.”

According to state testing data, 51.6% of people 18 years or older have had at least one vaccine dose in Cortland County. And nearly 18,000 of the county’s 47,800 residents are fully vaccinated.

Having all in-person learners from both SUNY Cortland and Tompkins Cortland Community College vaccinated would mean an additional 7,000 protected against the virus, based on school enrollments.

“It gives me a level of comfort,” said SUNY Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum. “Though, we will respect, of course, those who have religious and medical accommodations that they need.”

The SUNY schools join a number of private colleges to require students to be vaccinated to come on campus next fall. Cornell University, with 24,000 students and Ithaca College, with 6,200 students will require vaccinations, as will Syracuse University.

“New York’s private, not-for-profit colleges and universities are committed to ensuring their communities are safe and we know that vaccination is the safest, fastest, and easiest way for us to emerge from the pandemic and resume the in-person academic activities that are the cornerstone of higher education,” said Lola Brabham, President of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities, praising the state for requiring public universities to mandate vaccinations. “It is imperative that there is a unified approach to public health and we applaud our colleagues in the public sector for joining the many private colleges that have announced plans to require vaccination on their campuses.”

Bitterbaum said more details will need to be worked out regarding families of students who don’t want their children vaccinated, other than religious or medical exemptions, but want them attending in-person courses.

Bitterbaum said that decision likely won’t have a big effect on fall enrollment because students who decide not to attend the school based on the new policy can be replaced by students who are on the school’s waiting list.

Deb Mohlenhoff, the associate vice president for college relations at TC3, said the college is waiting for additional guidance from SUNY for implementing the policy.

“We don’t know what our plan is or how to follow through on that yet,” she said.

Mohlenhoff said the initial statement was more to notify schools of the upcoming changes and that she’ll expect more guidance in the coming weeks.

The school has been working to help get students who want to get vaccinated on a Tompkins County registry, she said.

The registry informs students of vaccination opportunities and helps coordinate transportation to vaccination sites.

Additionally, the college has been sending out information on vaccination sites.

“We support all of our students to be vaccinated,” she said.

Rivera said he was in favor of this policy because it allows a return to normality.

“It’s important, for sure,” he said. “So we can have in-person classes again.”