With the Fall semester underway, College of the Desert campuses are experiencing the return of students who have been eager to revisit in-person learning after more than a year of shutdowns.
Currently, students and staff who want to attend face-to-face instruction or other on-campus activities are not required to show proof that they are vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.
However, the policy is set to change for the 2022 Spring semester following a vote late last week by the Board of Trustees.
Meggan Renteria, a first year student, isn't bothered by the upcoming change in policy at school.
She said she thinks "it's really good that people have their vaccination," and noted with that with the possibility of more students returning to in-person learning, she believes College of the Desert is taking steps "so they can protect everyone.”
For Agustina Berrondo, a second year student from Argentina, the vaccine mandate makes sense from a public health perspective, even though she says ultimately it's a choice that every individual must make for themselves.
She was forced to return to Argentina from the U.S. in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. Berrondo said she plans to get vaccinated now that she is back in America, and noted the health care system in her home country is not well organized.
Berrondo added that she thinks “people from here need to understand that not every country has the opportunity to have these vaccinations process and all the resources to feel safe.”
Meanwhile, College of the Desert said it informed students and staff about the decision to implement a vaccine mandate in its weekly Roadrunner Roundup Newsletter.
It also said an announcement was made in several staff and leadership meetings, posted on the College's website and social media platforms, and it will be included in the school's bi-weekly COVID announcement, which is distributed every other Thursday to faculty, staff and leadership.
College of the Desert explained its decision, while noting a nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths driven by the highly contagious Delta variant.
Board Chair Aurora Wilson said in a press release, “throughout the pandemic, we have prioritized the safety and well-being of our employees and students. As we increase the number of people accessing our facilities, the Board believes it is important to embrace a comprehensive strategy that includes proactive measures to reduce the possibility of the transmission of COVID-19 on our campuses.”
Students and school employees over the age of 12 must submit proof of vaccination by January 31, 2022, which marks the beginning of the Spring semester, if they want to attend in-person instruction.
College of the Desert said it is still working to develop a system to check for proof of vaccination and test results for those who qualify for a vaccine exemption, which will be granted for religious and medical reasons.
It also told News Channel 3 that "as the implementation plan is finalized, information will continue to be shared on various platforms, including, but not limited to Zoom sessions hosted by Superintendent/President, Dr. Martha Garcia, email, social media, web, print signage, COD App postings, information in canvas, and it will be included in a variety of campus activities and meetings."
A spokesperson for the school added "our goal is to communicate the information in various formats to ensure our students, faculty, and staff are aware of the change and prepared."
Currently, all students and school employees are screened through the SWAY App before entering campus. The application is used to identify any COVID-like symptoms, including fever, chills, and sore throat.
Users are asked a series of questions about their health after they have created a profile. Temperature checks are also available and administered before entering campus. If a screening is flagged, an individual's status will be reviewed before they are given permission to enter campus.
Additionally, College of the Desert has announced it is partnering with Borrego Health to provide weekly vaccination clinics and PCR testing during the Fall semester, both of which are free of charge for anyone that is interested.
Stay with News Channel 3 for any new developments.