Vaccine passports are prohibited at KU, but university leaders are creating a system to encourage students to show they are vaccinated
photo by: Sylas May/Journal-World Illustration
There won’t be any vaccine passports at the University of Kansas when it reopens this fall, but there will be a system some might think of as a vaccine fast pass.
KU is encouraging students to voluntarily submit documentation showing they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, and some of those students will be able to use those vaccine documents to avoid having to wear masks.
KU’s student housing department recently began sending out information to incoming students about mask requirements for people living in KU dormitories. According to the information, students will have to wear masks in all public areas of dormitories — think hallways, lobbies, laundry rooms and other such areas — until they test negative for COVID-19.
KU plans to have testing stations set up as students begin moving into dorms in late August. Students will be able to be tested on site, but they will be required to wear masks until their test results come back, which KU is estimating to take about 48 hours in most cases.
Don’t like masks? There is a fast way around that process. Just prove to KU leaders that you’ve been fully vaccinated.
KU spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson confirmed that KU has set up a system through its Watkins Health Services division where any KU student can upload a form proving they have been vaccinated. In other words, basically a vaccine passport, although KU officials did not describe it that way.
“State law limits our ability to require vaccinations or proof of vaccination,” Peterson said via email.
But nothing in the law stops students from voluntarily providing proof of vaccination. The question may become whether KU will do anything to make it worth a student’s time.
For students living in the dorms, the answer might be a break on mask wearing. If students provide proof of vaccination, they won’t have to take the COVID-19 test when they move in, and they won’t have to wear a mask while they await their test results.
Perhaps a bigger incentive will be how the fully vaccinated are treated in the event of an outbreak in a dorm. The email from student housing didn’t get into specifics, but it did make clear that “residents who are fully vaccinated will have different requirements for quarantine due to a COVID-19 exposure.” In other words, people who are vaccinated may not have to spend any time in isolation, if they are exposed to someone who has contracted COVID. Those details, though, are yet to come.
“Students can expect to receive additional information on the process, along with reasons to encourage them to get vaccinated, as we approach the fall semester,” Peterson said via email.
Students who live in dorms face different mask requirements than the general student population. There is no mask requirement in classrooms or other parts of the university. In those locations, KU encourages — but does not require — people who are not fully vaccinated to wear a mask.
Peterson said there also will be “numerous opportunities” for students to receive vaccinations both on and off campus. KU, however, can’t require students to be vaccinated as a condition of attending the university. State lawmakers created that prohibition with provisions inserted into the state’s major spending bill last legislative session. Senate Bill 159 prohibits any state agency, including universities, from requiring “an individual to use a COVID-19 vaccination passport within this state for any purpose.” The bill also does not allow the university to “deny housing or refuse access to a place accessible to the general public, or separate from others in a place accessible to the general public, including entry, education, travel and services within this state, based on such individual’s COVID-19 vaccination status.”
The state law, however, doesn’t seem to prohibit universities from requiring testing for COVID-19. But, thus far, KU has not announced any plans to require testing for students, other than those who are living in a dormitory. Peterson’s recent statement indicated testing would be optional for other students and faculty.
“We will provide asymptomatic and symptomatic COVID-19 tests for all KU students, faculty and staff who wish to be tested both before and during the upcoming semester,” Peterson said via email. “These tests will continue to be readily available to the KU community. Additional information on our testing process will be announced as the fall semester approaches.”
KU did require testing, at times, during the last school year. Peterson noted that KU had good success with its COVID prevention strategies last year. She said KU “had zero known transmissions of COVID-19 within any of our classrooms or research spaces during the pandemic, which is a testament to the health and safety measures we implemented and the diligence of our faculty, staff and students.”
She said KU continues to make COVID-19 prevention strategies based off consultations from the university’s Pandemic Medical Advisory Team, which includes several of the region’s top public health officials.