WSU staff vaccination rate climbs past 95%, sees slight uptick in cases

WESTFIELD — After having a comparably low vaccination rate for most of the fall semester so far, Westfield State University employees have now achieved a vaccination rate of more than 95 percent.

Westfield State employees had been given a deadline of Oct. 15 to be vaccinated or be barred from coming in to work. Chief of Staff Tricia Oliver said that 11 Westfield State employees missed time due to not receiving the vaccine, five of whom were cleared to return to campus less than a week later after either being vaccinated or receiving an exemption. Westfield State students had achieved a vaccinated rate of more than 90 percent close to the beginning of the fall semester.

“Currently, there are four partially vaccinated employees on unpaid leave. We have new hires coming on campus that must be vaccinated. And, College of Graduate and Continuing Education faculty will need to be fully vaccinated within a month,” said Oliver.

Oliver said that reminders were frequently sent out to employees about getting vaccinated before the deadline, and dining incentives were offered for employees who confidentially shared proof of having been fully vaccinated.

Because of the overall vaccination rate of more than 95 percent, and with approval from Westfield’s Board of Health, Westfield State’s quarantine protocols have changed to be just 10 days without further testing, or seven days if the individual receives a negative COVID-19 test after the fifth day. The indoor mask mandate on campus remains in effect, regardless of vaccination status.

“Otherwise, Westfield State University currently has no plans to relax our COVID-19 precautions. We do, however, regularly assess our safety protocols, and, in particular, monitor any changes in local, state, and federal guidance relevant for institutions of higher education,” said Oliver.

Though the vaccination rate at Westfield State is high, the university last week reported a relative jump in the number of new weekly COVID-19 cases, with 15 new cases out of 242 administered tests. It was not reported how many, if any, of the new cases were breakthrough cases among the vaccinated, or cases among the remaining employees and students with legitimate exemptions to the vaccines.

In a letter to the campus community on Nov. 4, Westfield State President Linda Thompson said that the new cases represent “a sizable increase in cases compared to weeks prior,” but that it does not yet necessitate additional COVID-19 mitigation measures on campus.

“If a sizable increase in new COVID-19 cases emerges following asymptomatic and symptomatic testing next week, decisions will be made regarding temporarily curtailing certain on-campus activities or operations,” said Thompson.

She said most of the new cases were among students living in different residential halls on campus.

“The Incident Management Team continues to meet regularly to coordinate and address any immediate operations issues, and will be closely monitoring next week’s numbers. Look for an update on next week’s testing results next Friday, Nov. 12,” said Thompson.

Westfield State has a twice-weekly asymptomatic testing program, which is mandatory for the 203 students and employees who are unvaccinated because of a legitimate exemption.

Oliver said that there is currently no Westfield State policy requiring COVID-19 booster shots.

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