Washington State University will require proof that students and staff are vaccinated against COVID-19 before they return to live or work on campus, the university announced Wednesday. The announcement comes as part of the university’s plan to return to in-person classes and athletics next fall. 

All students living in university housing on WSU’s Pullman campus will need to submit vaccine documentation by Aug. 6. All other students will have until Nov. 1 to provide proof; those who don’t won’t be eligible to register for spring semester courses. 

WSU is Washington’s first public university to announce vaccine requirements. It joins Seattle University and Pacific Lutheran University, two private universities that mandated vaccines for students earlier this month. The University of Washington, Western Washington University, The Evergreen State College and Central Washington University haven’t announced mandates but are strongly urging staff and students to get vaccinated. Over the past month, California’s two public university systems and dozens of other colleges nationwide have also announced new COVID-19 vaccine policies. 

At WSU, students can seek medical or religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccines, just as they can for the university’s other required vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella. 

The university is also creating a new exemption for those who have personal concerns about getting vaccinated. Students and staff will be required to submit requests for such exemptions, but university officials said they are still ironing out what they’ll ask for from those seeking a waiver for personal reasons. Students enrolled in online-only programs are also exempted from the vaccine requirement. 

“There’s a real concern that there’s a segment of the population that has a ‘wait and see’ attitude about the vaccine and we don’t have the luxury of waiting and seeing,” said Phil Weiler, spokesperson for the university. “Inaction is not an option.” 

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The vaccine requirement comes amid the university’s broader plans to open campus buildings to in-person courses next fall. Exceptions will include large lecture classes with 100 or more enrolled students, Weiler said. For those larger classes, professors will teach remotely and will offer students small group discussion sections in person. 

The university is also planning to allow spectators at athletic events, and right now, is planning to fill athletic venues at 50% of their typical capacity. This is all subject to change, Weiler said, based on vaccination rates and local coronavirus case counts. 

UW and Evergreen are also hoping to return to in-person courses this fall, and are beginning to share tentative plans for returning to classrooms, campus housing and athletic events. At Evergreen, for instance, officials say they expect most courses will be offered through a hybrid of in-person and remote instruction. “We’re trying to do as much in person in the fall as we can,” said Sandra Kaiser, vice president for college relations at Evergreen. But those plans could change, she said, if the course of the pandemic shifts.