UK sets mandatory weekly COVID testing for unvaccinated students, staff

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – Starting Sept. 1, all unvaccinated students, faculty and staff at the University of Kentucky will be required to take weekly COVID tests.

Unvaccinated students already are undergoing regular testing. This requirement now extends to unvaccinated faculty and staff and will be required on a weekly basis. Once fully vaccinated, testing is no longer required.

UK President Eli Capilouto announced the move in a campuswide email Thursday. Students were notified of the testing protocol before the start of classes earlier this week.

Below is Capitlouto’s message:

Campus Community,

I am writing to you a day early with my weekly update because we are moving quickly to continue bolstering our efforts to keep our community safe and healthy. We are evaluating our policies and plans every day to ensure we are putting our community first in everything that we do. To that end, a number of steps are being taken as a next phase of our overall plan:

Mandatory weekly testing for everyone who is unvaccinated

Beginning September 1, COVID-19 testing for everyone (faculty, staff and students) on our campus who is unvaccinated will be mandatory.

Unvaccinated students already are testing. This requirement now extends to unvaccinated faculty and staff as well. Testing will be required on a weekly basis. If and when someone is fully vaccinated, they will no longer be required to test.

I have made this decision in consultation with our elected faculty, staff and student representatives, based on their very thoughtful recommendations as we continue to navigate in response to emerging data and evidence related to the pandemic. Our UK START team of scientists and health professionals met this week and also strongly recommends this step, along with increased communication about the efficacy and safety of vaccines. You may have seen in the news this week that the Pfizer vaccine gained full FDA approval — a move that I hope boosts confidence even further in vaccines.

I am deeply appreciative of the thoughtful input from campus leaders in discussing this step. We continue to actively consider whether additional measures — such as mandating vaccines across campus for all students, faculty and staff — will be required. Such a move may be necessary, but it is complicated and must be done thoughtfully as it raises further questions around who is exempted and how is the policy enforced equitably among those impacted, among other things.

We share the same goal: to protect our community and support the best possible living, learning and working environment possible.

I believe that means having our students back on campus, in classes, working with world-class faculty and staff.

The best way to ensure we continue to provide that environment is to vaccinate as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. Vaccines are safe. They are effective. And they provide strong protection against serious illness or hospitalization from the virus.

As a result, we plan to test you until you take this important health measure. Vaccination protects you and others.

Here are the highlights of our testing plan for any unvaccinated faculty, staff or student:

  • Employees should begin signing up for their mandatory testing appointments on August 30.
  • Testing will begin September 1.
  • Two employee-only testing sites will be opened on campus. We will provide details on those sites shortly.
  • Employees can be tested during work hours. Workers who are paid hourly will not have to take leave time to test.
  • Students will continue testing in the Blue Box Theatre at the Gatton Student Center. Employees can continue testing at this location as well.
  • Anyone can continue to test as well at the community site on College Way near Kentucky Proud Park.
  • We are optimistic that our community will comply with this measure because it’s the right thing to do. You care about the health, safety and well-being of your community.
  • However, there will be penalties for non-compliance. Those measures must be equitable, regardless of whether someone is a faculty, student or staff member. As such, we will institute disciplinary actions for non-compliance. We will communicate about those measures soon as we continue to confer with our elected faculty, student and staff representatives.
  • As a reminder, masks continue to be required indoors regardless of vaccination. Compliance with this policy is essential as masks are an important mitigation strategy for our campus.

Vaccinations

As part of our goal to reach an 80 percent campus vaccination rate, we are initiating an incentive program for faculty and staff. As with our student program, you will have to be vaccinated to be eligible to win.

Prizes will include an extra week of vacation; free parking and meal plans; and credit at the UK Bookstore, among others. We will provide registration information and details about the employee incentive plan next week.

Students can continue to register for their incentive program here. As of earlier this week, more than 3,000 students had registered for incentives.

Our Progress

Our campus community is making tremendous progress on vaccination levels.

As of Tuesday, 74 percent of our current campus community was fully vaccinated or in the process of being fully vaccinated. That’s up 5 percentage points since late July.

The breakdown is as follows:

  • 82 percent of faculty
  • 75 percent of staff
  • And a little more than 70 percent of returning students. We will have new students factored into our calculations in early September, but our early indications are that their numbers are rapidly increasing as well.

The bottom line: We are making tangible progress toward our initial goal of 80 percent of our community vaccinated. We have, as always, more work to do. But our community is once again meeting the moment.

Other Efforts

There’s no question that our community — and those we serve — are being challenged by a resurgence of the virus, with the Delta variant. But there’s also no question that we are doing what is necessary to keep our community safe.

With the expansion of mandatory testing, we will — at least temporarily — be adding staffing in UK Health Corps, the modern public health infrastructure we established last academic year, to help with even more robust contact tracing and support. We also will be adding COVID-19 monitors who will help us ensure compliance across campus with our policies and processes.

More testing will mean detection of more cases of the virus, at least in the short term. That will require more support for our community.

Remember, though, that we have been here before. We came together and supported one another with equipment and supplies, healing and hope. That made a difference. We were challenged, but never failed to put our community first. We always do what we can — and what we must — to advance Kentucky. I know we will once again. Thank you for being part of this community.

Eli Capilouto

President

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