PHOTO/LYNN LAZARO: As students returned to the University of Nevada, Reno campus, some students and faculty are concerned about safety as COVID-19 cases continue to surge.

Tyler Kremers, a freshman at the University of Nevada, Reno, is upset that he had to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to register for classes — and then the state cancelled the requirement.

“I just don’t like the fact that everything happened the way it did,” Kremers said. He believes that the university shouldn’t have told students that there was a mandate, “if it wasn’t set in stone.”

He would not have gotten the jab if the university hadn’t required it, he said.

“When they repealed it, it made me aggravated to say the very least, because I got the shot,” Kremers said. “I don’t disagree with the shot, [but] I don’t necessarily agree with it either.” He doesn’t think the vaccines are necessary if other pandemic-related precautions are followed.

“I wear my mask in public places,” Kremers said. “I don’t cough on people. … I follow the rules. I’m not a danger to society.”

Protecting others

Other students said they support the vaccine mandate and believe it should still be in place.

“I thought if we mandate vaccines, for all the students and faculty then … we’d be taking steps towards having a normal campus again,” said William Ross, a graduate student studying engineering. He chose to get vaccinated in hopes of protecting himself and the community at large, he said.

“I mean anyone who’s immunocompromised, who has any kind of preexisting conditions that can affect their health — or anything that could affect Coronavirus — I think maintaining vaccines for everyone is a good way to keep people safe,” he said. Ross said vaccines are the best defense against catching the contagion or experiencing severe symptoms if a vaccinated person does test positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.

Evidence vaccines work

Science sides with Ross and other proponents of the vaccine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 – two initial shots and a subsequent booster — is effective in preventing severe illness and hospitalizations even if the vaccinated person does contract the virus.

In December, CDC data indicated that unvaccinated adults are 13 times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 compared to adults with the booster shot. They are also 68 times more at risk of dying from COVID-19 compared to boosted adults. In January, the CDC reported that 85% of those hospitalized with the virus were unvaccinated.

Before he was vaccinated, Kremers said, he was being treated like a pariah by those who got the shots. Eventually, pressure from his family, friends — and the university’s mandate — got him to roll up his sleeve. He doesn’t regret getting the jab, he said, but resents being coerced into it.

Vax-on; vax-off

Kremers is one of more than 19,000 students at the university who are vaccinated. According to the university’s website more than 21,000 students usually are enrolled at UNR. That would be a vaccinated rate of about 90%, but official numbers for the spring semester have not yet been published. Faculty and staff members are still required to be vaccinated.

Student vaccinations were required for about four months, and repealed four weeks before the start of the spring semester.

Vaccinated students were able to register for their classes as of Nov. 1. Students who lacked the shots weren’t allowed to do so. The Nevada Legislative Commission on Dec, 22 decided not to continue the requirement, opening the door to unvaccinated students to register. Classes began Jan. 18.

But because many classes are at capacity, some of those unvaccinated students returning to UNR aren’t able to register for the classes required for their majors, possibly delaying their planned graduation dates.

The on-and-off vaccine requirement, “probably [did] take away a lot of opportunities for those who decided not to get vaccinated,” Kremers noted.

Faculty petition

Some faculty members also want the mandate for students to be reinstated.

Even before the mandate for students expired, the Nevada Faculty Alliance launched a petition calling for better safety requirements at Nevada System of Higher Education campuses. The petition garnered more than 3,800 signatures, but UNR officials didn’t make any changes.

“I feel that it was very unfortunate that the Legislature decided not to mandate vaccines for all students returning to campus, and the faculty is very concerned,” said Mary Peacock, a professor in the university’s biology department. She signed the latest petition from the NFA.

Peacock is concerned for herself and fellow faculty members. While students may come and go from a classroom for an hour, faculty members spend hours interacting with hundreds of students.

“So it becomes a safety issue,” Peacock said. “It becomes [about] being smart, and how to keep the campus safe, and keep your faculty safe.” All faculty members and staff at the university are required to be vaccinated. Peacock said it’s logical to have that requirement extended to the students.

“A part of being a safe campus is to minimize risk of this kind of disease,” she said. “Having (everyone) vaccinated makes sense to me.”

Not all professors agree.

PHOTO/FRANK X. MULLEN: Students in Dr. Lydia Huerta Moreno’s class in Room 218 of Frandsen Hall at the University of Nevada, Reno, Sept. 20.

Tension among faculty

In August, Jesse Krause, an associate professor in the biology department, sent an email for public comment to the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services. Krause opposed the vaccine mandate on students.

Peacock declined to elaborate on the situation, but claimed that everyone in the department is aware. She described the situation as unfortunate.

“I feel people are entitled to an opinion, but it really needs to be an informed opinion,” Peacock said. She doesn’t believe Krause had done enough homework.

“The efficacy of the vaccine has been clearly demonstrated,” Peacock said.

Getting what they paid for

Some faculty members are upset that professors are not allowed to move in-person classes to a virtual platform. UNR guidelines do not allow switching to virtual instruction without special requests approved by the provost’s office. Some classes, though, are being taught on Zoom  the first two weeks of the semester absent that permission.

But Austin Brown, the president of the Associated Students of the University of Nevada, said professors should teach in the classroom if that’s what the administration requires.

“I think it’s important to follow those policies and guidelines that we have set in place,” said Brown, who said he understands professors’ concerns, but believes that it’s important to look at it from the students’ perspective.

“If students registered for an in-person class, he said, they are not receiving the service they paid for if instruction migrates to an online platform.

No refunds or adjustments

UNR President Brian Sandoval addressed the tuition question in an email to students in January.

“Should the Governor, Washoe County Health District, other governmental entity, Board of Regents, the Chancellor or I require that classes be moved to entirely online or another mode of delivery, there will be no refund of tuition or fees,” Sandoval wrote.

Many universities and colleges planned to return to in-person classes for the spring semester, but with the surge in cases this winter, many switched to online instruction. As Washoe County COVID-19 cases reach a seven-day average of more than 1,000 new daily cases, it is unclear whether UNR classes will continue in-person.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.