ALLENDALE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Valley State University international student Goutham Srinivas has witnessed the COVID-19 crisis in two countries: here in the United States and in his native India.
“The impact was very bad in India, though the first wave’s impact in the U.S. was very bad,” Srinivas said.
He welcomed Friday’s announcement requiring every GVSU student, faculty and staff member be vaccinated by Sept. 30.
“I feel it is our responsibility to get vaccinated, not only for us, but for others’ safety… safety of our loved ones, our friends,” Srinivas said.
GVSU leaders outlined their COVID-19 mitigation plan Friday.
“It comes down, fundamentally to: We want to have the safest campus we can, consistent with our mission to provide education,” Greg Sanial, GVSU’s vice president for finance and administration and director of the university’s Virus Action Team, said.
Officials said they made their decision with full Food and Drug Administration approval of at least one of the vaccines expected by Labor Day. While there may be some religious and medical exemptions, officials said they will be limited.
“We ask everyone in our community to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” Sanial said during a Friday morning virtual press conference. “Those not vaccinated will need to be tested for COVID-19 weekly until they are vaccinated.”
Sanial said officials hoped the mandate would be a “nonissue” for most but recognized they would see pushback from at least some.
“We will look to do a number of steps. The first step is not going to be to terminate their employment or anything like that; there will be several steps of escalation when engaging with these people. But clearly, I think, in the end, if they’re absolutely refusing to get vaccinated, we would expect them to seek their education elsewhere or employment elsewhere,” Sanial said. “But again, there’s going to be many steps in that process, I think, before we get to that. And we hope with engagement and education and understanding that we won’t have to get there.”
The university will require masks in all GVSU buildings by everyone — students, workers and visitors alike — starting Monday. Weekly testing for those who are unvaccinated also begins next week.
“The COVID landscape has changed rapidly in the last few days and here at Grand Valley, we need to strengthen our already robust health and safety plan for the fall semester,” Sanial said. “Our strategy of testing, masking and vaccinations … are all mutually supportive, like three legs of a stool, and when combined are our best approach to having a safe campus this fall.”
GVSU says about 80% of its faculty has reported being vaccinated and about 60% of students have reported they have had at least one shot.
“We can and must do better,” Sanial said, though he also noted there are data gaps because not everyone has yet indicted vaccination status one way or the other.
Sanial said the university asks people coming on campus to report vaccination status and they can also upload a photo of their vaccination card. He said GVSU can also cross-check reports with health departments to confirm.
Sanial added that the university would host vaccine clinics during move-in the week of Aug. 24 and during the first week of classes.
“We’ve had similar vaccine clinics on campus during the summer, targeting specific groups as they have returned to campus, and they’ve been very successful,” Sanial said.
The University of Michigan says 83% of students are fully vaccinated. U-M announced last week that it is also requiring all students, faculty and staff to get the vaccine before the fall semester. Western Michigan University and Michigan State University do not make their vaccination data publicly available. MSU is also requiring vaccinations for the fall.
—News 8’s Dana Whyte contributed to this report.