UMass Amherst, Hampshire College mandate booster shots for students

  • Kenedy Petersen, a UMass student employee, waits to register people for Covid testing at the UMass testing site at the Mullins Center earlier this year. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/2/2021 8:13:30 PM
Modified: 12/2/2021 8:12:57 PM

AMHERST — University of Massachusetts students will be required to get COVID-19 booster shots prior to the Jan. 25 start of the spring semester.

In addition, Hampshire College is joining UMass in requiring that all students and employees receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot as soon as they become eligible, said Jennifer Crisler, the college’s chief advancement officer.

The UMass mandate for boosters, and a COVID-19 test 10 to 14 days prior to classes beginning, are among protocols announced by Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy in a letter sent to students Wednesday.

“Our goal is to provide a safe and robust student experience upon our return to campus in the spring,” Subbaswamy wrote. “In accordance with the existing requirement that students be fully immunized against COVID-19, all students will be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot.”

The letter notes that booster shots for people 18 and older are recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those who were previously granted exemptions from vaccinations for medical or religious reasons will continue to be required to test twice weekly during the spring semester. Other students will have to be tested once before returning to campus, and may also be asked to be part of adaptive testing, where they are randomly selected to participate, during the semester.

Crisler, of Hampshire College, said its policy “is consistent with the current requirement that students and employees be fully immunized against COVID-19, and will help us maintain the safest possible campus environment,” Crisler said.

The Hampshire College deadline to get booster shots is March 21, with students and employees with approved medical or religious exemptions not required to do so. Hampshire will also continue weekly COVID-19 testing and its indoor mask mandate, with certain exceptions.

Other area colleges

At Smith College, no mandate for boosters is yet in place, but is being considered as part of campus health and safety policies for the spring semester, said spokeswoman Stacey Schmeidel.

A campuswide email Monday states that “the college strongly encourages all students and employees to schedule a booster shot either locally or in their home communities.”

Smith College expects to soon announce the January return-to-campus process and Interterm policies, with preliminary guidance that students should plan to arrive for the spring term no later than Jan. 22 at 9 p.m. so they can be tested for COVID-19 two weeks prior to classes resuming.

Mount Holyoke College spokeswoman Christian Feuerstein wrote in an email that the college doesn’t have a booster vaccination mandate at the moment. “However, we hope all who are eligible for booster shots will obtain them as soon as possible,” Feuerstein wrote.

Feuerstein added that the college’s Health & Safety Team is continuing to review Mount Holyoke’s current requirements, with updates to be announced before the spring semester.

Similarly, Amherst College doesn’t have a college-wide booster requirement, but college spokeswoman Caroline Hanna wrote in an email that a recent campus booster clinic was so popular that all slots were taken, and another clinic will be held next week.

“Since COVID-19 continues to evolve, especially now with the presence in the U.S. of the Omicron variant, we are actively discussing what the protocol will be and will let our community know as soon as decisions are made,” Hanna wrote.

At UMass, three types of advance testing are being offered to make sure that, should positive tests be uncovered, students will have time to isolate and recover at home without missing class time.

The first allows students to obtain a testing kit prior to leaving campus this month and then to return it, via a pre-addressed, stamped envelope, after they have conducted an unobserved test between Jan. 10 and Jan. 14.

Students can also go in person to the Public Health Promotion Center Jan. 10 and Jan. 13 to be tested. Finally, students can get a PCR test at any of the state’s Stop the Spread testing sites during the same time frame.

Those who don’t comply with the advance testing will be required to be tested when they return to campus, but risk being sent home to isolate for 10 days, as required by the state’s Department of Public Health, should they test positive.

Subbaswamy’s letter noted other strategies UMass is using to keep the campus safe are the ongoing testing of wastewater, the adaptive testing program and an indoor mask requirement that will be reviewed after the spring semester gets underway.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.
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