More than 100 colleges across the country have said they will require students to receive coronavirus vaccines in order to attend in-person classes in the fall, according to a New York Times survey.
Those requirements come as Covid-19 cases have continued to climb steadily this spring at colleges and universities across the United States. More than 660,000 cases have been linked to the institutions since the start of the pandemic, with one-third of those since Jan. 1.
Major outbreaks continue on some campuses, even as students have become eligible for vaccines. Salve Regina University in Rhode Island canceled all in-person events for at least a week after more than 30 students tested positive in seven days. Wayne State University in Detroit, a city that has been one of the worst U.S. coronavirus hot spots, suspended in-person classes and on-campus activities in early April.
Schools including DePaul University, Emory University and Wesleyan University are requiring all students to be vaccinated. Others have said they are requiring athletes or those who live on campus to get a shot. Most are allowing medical, religious and other exemptions.
Although private colleges make up the bulk of the schools with vaccine mandates, some public universities have also moved to require the shots.
Students and employees of the University System of Maryland will be required to get vaccinated before returning to campus in the fall, said the chancellor, Jay A. Perman. He said he was particularly concerned about the B.1.1.7 variant, which he described in his announcement last week as more contagious.
“That’s what we’re preparing for,” he said, “more infectious, more harmful variants that we think could be circulating on our campuses come fall.”
At least two dozen colleges, including those in the California’s public university system, said that they would require shots after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration grants full approval for the vaccines.
Some colleges with mandates may face challenges. At Manhattanville College in New York, where students will need to provide proof of their shots before returning to campus, one student started a petition to reverse the policy, saying that the decision to get vaccinated was deeply personal. At Stanford University, the College Republicans, a student group, condemned the administration’s plans to require vaccinations for the fall.
Numerous colleges that are not requiring vaccinations are offering incentives to encourage them. Baylor University in Texas and Calvin University in Michigan have both announced that students who have been inoculated can skip mandatory testing.
The University of Wyoming is offering vaccinated students and staff members a chance to participate in a weekly drawing for prizes such as tickets to football or basketball games and Apple products. Employees who are fully vaccinated are eligible for a personal day off.
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More than half of U.S. states have seen a significant decline in new coronavirus cases over the past two weeks, as federal health officials suggest that the virus’s trajectory is improving. Still, the uneven distribution of vaccinations point to the challenge of persuading reluctant Americans to get vaccinated.
As of Wednesday, the United States was averaging over 52,000 new cases a day, a 26 percent decline from two weeks ago, and comparable to the level of cases reported in mid-October before the deadly winter surge, according to a New York Times database. Since peaking in January, cases, hospitalizations and deaths nationwide have drastically declined.
Over the past two weeks, case numbers have fallen by 15 percent or more in 27 states and the District of Columbia, with drops of 30 percent or more in 14 states. As of Tuesday, Vermont reported a 54 percent decline in the average number of new cases a day, while Michigan, which had one of the nation’s most severe recent outbreaks, is now seeing rapid improvement with cases there down 40 percent.
In New York City, which had seen stubbornly high caseloads for months, the second wave is receding a half-year after it started, the city’s health commissioner said.
Federal health officials have taken note. After expressing a recurring sense of “impending doom” last month, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Wednesday that she was seeing signs of progress.
“Cases are starting to come down. We think that this is related to increased vaccination, increased people taking caution, and so I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re turning the corner,” she said on “Good Morning America.”
But she warned that “the virus is an opportunist” and could strike in communities with low vaccination rates. Persistent vaccine hesitancy remains a challenge, and the pace of vaccination will ebb, officials have acknowledged, amid issues of supply and demand.
About 43 percent of people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and 30 percent have been fully vaccinated. Providers are administering about 2.7 million doses per day on average, as of Wednesday, about a 21 percent decrease from the peak of 3.4 million two weeks ago.
The C.D.C.’s move to relax mask guidance outdoors this week is a reflection of the rise in the total number of vaccinations.
“It’s another demonstration of what science has been telling us over the last many months, which is that vaccines are effective in preventing the Covid-19 virus from infecting us,” Dr. Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general, said in an interview on CNN.
As President Biden addressed a joint session of Congress on Wednesday evening, he set a target date of July 4 for the country “to get life in America closer to normal.” But public health experts emphasized that the experience of the pandemic across the world is not universal. India, for example, is experiencing a catastrophic second wave that could have global implications.
“Pandemics require global cooperation and mutual support,” Dr. Murthy said. “When there’s uncontrolled spread of the virus in any part of the world, that means that variants can arise, variants which may over time become resistant to the protection that we get from vaccines, which could mean a real problem for us here in the United States.”