In June 2021, the California State University system announced that students, staff, and faculty would have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 if they wanted to return to campus; however, there are exemptions for those with medical and religious reasons.
At California State University, Bakersfield, submitting a request for a medical or religious exemption is simple.
“No evidence is required,” CSUB’s Public Information Officer Jennifer Self said. “Students, faculty, and staff simply must submit the form that is located on the CSUB web page that deals with uploading the COVID-19 vaccination card or exemption form,” she said.
The process of getting an exemption at CSUB also moves incredibly quickly. After the initial request, CSUB will issue the exemption after three to 10 days. There is no vetting process to make sure someone’s claim for an exemption is legitimate. All you have to do is ask, and the University will grant you one without any further investigation or inquiries.
However, if the University grants the exemption, the student must test weekly if they plan to come to campus for any reason at all, according to Self.
CSU Chancellor Joseph I. Castro originally implemented the vaccine requirement to curb the transmission rate on campus as COVID-19 cases rose last summer.
Michael Uhlenkamp, the Senior Director for the Office of the Chancellor, said the move was to “protect the health and well-being of faculty, staff, students, and all members of the respective campus communities.”
However, some feel a mandate of this falls short.
“The lack of verification for someone’s need for an exemption scares CSUB senior Jacqueline Gutierrez.
“As a student, I understand that some other students or faculty members may have a legitimate reason to not be vaccinated, but I also fear that some people may take advantage of that just because they don’t want to get vaccinated,” she said.
According to Uhlenkamp, the CSU system has granted 23,000 exemptions from a student population of 477,000. That means that less than five percent of the students in the CSU system remain unvaccinated. CSUB accounts for 2,787 of those exemptions, with most of them citing they will not be coming onto campus as the reason for their exemption. Those that choose this administrative exemption, where they attest they will not be coming to campus, do not have to test weekly.
While the percentage of those unvaccinated may seem insignificant, with the CSU system removing its mask mandate, students are vulnerable.
But if anyone tests positive, vaccinated or not, “they must leave campus, and their positive result is reported to case management here at CSUB so that others who have been in close contact with a student, staff, or faculty member can be contacted and told they have been exposed. We protect the privacy of the person by not revealing identities,” Self explained.
In response to some students being fearful, Uhlenkamp is sympathetic but hopes everyone understands there are legitimate reasons for asking for an exemption.
“It is our sincere hope that all students and employees understand and appreciate the situation that we have all collectively dealt with for the past two years and that those that are seeking medical and religious expectations are doing so for the right reasons rather than in an attempt to game the system,” he said.
But with face masks no longer required on campus, the easily avoidable vaccine requirement seems to be the only COVID-19 related requirement keeping students safe. With a new variant possibly coming to the states, weekly testing of unvaccinated individuals will not be enough. The only way to eliminate transmission between those on campus is to enforce the mandate on all of those coming to campus.