On Thursday, the university administration announced that it would require all members of the DePaul community to receive a booster shot by March 1.
In an email sent to DePaul students, faculty and staff, DePaul President A. Gabriel Esteban, Provost Salma Ghanem and Executive Vice President Sherri Sidler announced a university-wide mandate requiring COVID-19 booster shots and improved masking protocols.
Updated Booster Guidance
According to the new guidelines, Blue Demons would need to submit updated vaccination documentation by Tuesday, March 1. Students who do not comply with this requirement will be prohibited from registering for in-person classes for the Spring Quarter.
Law students, specifically, “will be dropped from spring face-to-face coursework if not compliant,” the announcement said.
In requiring a mandate for boosters, the administration cited Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to stop the spread of new variants like Omicron and help prevent future outbreaks.
“According to the CDC, vaccines remain the best public health measure to protect others from COVID-19, slow transmission rates and reduce the likelihood of new variants,” the announcement said. “The COVID-19 vaccines help prevent severe illness and hospitalization, however, their effectiveness may decrease over time. Getting a booster can help increase immune response to further protect ourselves and the community from serious illness.”
In their announcement, administrators also acknowledged the recent push for a campus-wide booster mandate by other representative bodies, including resolutions passed by Faculty Council, Staff Council and Student Government Association.
Timeline of Decision-Making
On Wednesday, Faculty Council representatives voted to require COVID-19 boosters for all students, faculty and staff by the start of Spring Quarter. Drafted by Jay Baglia, chair of the DePaul Health Committee on Faculty Council, the resolution passed by overwhelming margins, with only four voting members opposed.
In that resolution, faculty members called for everyone in the university community to receive a booster shot, citing research on the reduced efficacy of vaccinations without additional shots.
“Early clinical studies indicate a booster is the best course of action to minimize the threat of both contagion and the severity in the case of ‘breakthrough’ cases,” read Faculty Council’s proposal. “Booster shots are an essential and critical component of a comprehensive public health strategy to prevent the threat of COVID-19 and maintain a safe learning environment.”
In addition to the motion from Faculty Council, members of the university staff also supported a booster requirement.
On January 10, Staff Council members unanimously voted in favor of an on-campus booster mandate in the interest of the “health, safety and well-being of the DePaul University community.” Their resolution was sent to university leadership on Monday.
In arguing their case, Staff Council’s resolution noted that other local colleges and universities had already moved to require boosters long before DePaul, schools like the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Loyola University and the entire University of Illinois system.
These pushes from faculty and staff followed a similar resolution that was passed by Student Government Association on Thursday, January 6.
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Like the Faculty Council’s resolution, SGA referenced diminished vaccine efficacy, widespread availability of boosters and the Vincentian mission to prioritize health and safety as reasons to require the shots.
Updated Mask and In-Person Guidance
In addition to the updated booster guidance, the university is asking everyone to improve the quality of their masks before in-person classes resume.
“Cloth masks alone no longer meet the university’s mask requirement,” the announcement said. “DePaul highly recommends using medical-grade masks such as KN95 or N95 masks. If you do not have an N95 or KN95 mask, you may double mask with a cloth mask layered over a surgical one.”
According to the new policy, everyone is responsible for providing their own masks, though surgical masks will continue to be provided to those who need them and some KN95 masks will be available soon around campus.
“One hundred thousand KN95 masks were ordered and we expect them delivered at any time,” DePaul spokesperson Russell Dorn wrote in an email to 14 East, adding that “next week is the most realistic timeline” for rolling them out into locations across campus for the larger DePaul community. (Update: after publication, Dorn updated 14 East that the masks had been delivered Friday morning and will be distributed by the start of in-person classes on Tuesday.)
These pushes for increased health and safety measures on campus come as COVID-19 cases surge across the city and state. And, despite classes being taught online for the first two weeks of the quarter, cases are also hitting record highs on campus. At the time of publishing, there have been a total of 47 students, faculty and staff with confirmed cases of COVID-19 on campus since the university reopened for the Winter Quarter on January 3.
The return to in-person learning in Fall Quarter saw approximately 137 reported and confirmed instances of COVID-19 positive students, faculty, staff and other visitors on campus. An additional 50 cases were reported during Winter Break and the December intersession, with over half occurring the week that the DePaul men’s basketball team canceled multiple games due to a COVID-19 outbreak on the team.
As previously announced, in-person classes will resume this Tuesday, January 18, following Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Editors note: This piece was updated to add additional information about KN95 mask distribution from the university.
With additional reporting from Cam Rodriguez
Header illustration by Cam Rodriguez