Student leaders ask Minnesota State to require vaccines

A person sits in a chair while being tested for COVID-19.
A nurse takes a swab from a patient in September 2020 at the mass testing COVID-19 clinic at Minnesota State University, Mankato's Myers Field House in Mankato, Minn.
Pat Christman | Mankato Free Press 2020 file

Student leaders are asking the Minnesota State system to require students at its universities and community colleges to get COVID-19 vaccines or be tested regularly for the virus.

"We think it's really important, not only for the safety of our students but also for the safety of our faculty and staff,” said Emma Zellmer, state chair of Students United, an organization that represents students at Minnesota State universities.

Currently, Minnesota State faculty and staff at the system’s 30 community colleges and seven universities must be vaccinated or tested weekly. Certain students, including, those who live in residence halls or play campus sports, also fall under that order.

The Minnesota State system has other policies aimed at preventing the spread of the virus, including requiring masks at campuses in counties with high transmission rates. Currently, that includes all 37 colleges and universities in the system.

But Zellmer, a senior at Minnesota State University, Mankato, said there have been numerous cases of COVID-19 on campuses, where faculty are sometimes required to teach in-person and masking requirements aren’t always strictly enforced.

So far in January, Minnesota State has reported more than 1,600 positive cases among students and nearly 500 cases among employees.

As higher education institutions, Zellmer said it’s also important for the state colleges and universities to educate students on the importance of relying on data and critical thinking.

“We must lead by example, so we have to follow the science and trust the experts,” she said. “Otherwise, what message is that sending to our students about higher education?”

Zellmer said Students United has not gotten much response to its request from Minnesota State leadership, or its previous complaints about lagging enforcement of COVID requirements.

Increasing the proportion of vaccinated students and employees is “a top priority,” Devinder Malhotra, the system’s chancellor, said in a statement. Vaccination rates among students increased 11 percent during fall semester, he added.

Malhotra said Minnesota State continues to strongly encourage all students to get vaccinated and is working to reduce barriers and hesitancy around getting the vaccine. That has included outreach campaigns and hosting vaccination clinics on campus.

The percentage of students who had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Dec. 1 ranged from a low of 43 percent at Northland Community and Technical College in East Grand Forks, Minn., and Thief River Falls, Minn., to a high of 79 percent at Metropolitan State University in the Twin Cities.

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