Keuka College: Back and vaxxed

Kevin Frisch, Keuka College
Keuka College has resumed full operations this fall with approximately 99% of students, faculty, and staff having received COVID vaccinations.

KEUKA PARK – Keuka College welcomed some 900 new and returning students to campus last week as the 2021-22 academic year got underway amid familiar traditions and a few new policies.

Academic Convocation and Community Day, events that ring in the school year for new students and faculty and staff, were held in person thanks in large part to the fact that students, faculty, and staff are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Members of the College community were notified early this summer that they would be required to complete their vaccinations by Aug. 13 – two weeks prior to their return to campus – and provide documentation to the College as a condition of returning.

“As with every decision the College has made throughout the pandemic, this policy was instituted to protect public health while ensuring a high-quality student experience,” said College President Amy Storey. “The College has long prided itself on providing a unique, residential experience for its students, and vaccinations are the best and safest way to continue this tradition.”

The policy was met with overwhelming compliance: Roughly 99% of the College’s students, faculty, and staff have been fully vaccinated. Fewer than two dozen students and employees were approved for medical or religious exemptions and, as per College policy, wear face masks, practice social distancing, and undergo regular testing.

By comparison, in Yates County as a whole, about 45% of the population has been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“We were pleased with the high level of compliance with the policy,” said Dr. Chris Alterio, Chair of the College’s Reopening Task Force. “There were just a handful – single digits – of students who opted not to comply.”

Because nearly the entire College population has been vaccinated and the transmission rate of the Delta variant in Yates County has been relatively low, the College has not had to physically distance desks in classrooms or require universal mask-wearing on campus this semester. Masks are required for those not fully vaccinated and for all visitors and guests of the College who cannot confirm their vaccination status. They are also supported as an additional level of comfort among those who are vaccinated.

“Some people who are vaccinated feel more comfortable with masking themselves and that is welcomed and encouraged,” said Alterio, founding Dean of the College’s School of Health and Human Services. “But for the most part, students appreciate being able to enjoy College life without wearing masks. Of course, we advise them that if they travel off campus, they should have their masks with them if they cannot physically distance themselves among crowds.”

After two successive years punctuated by restrictive public-health protocols and remote instruction, the successful vaccine campaign and the vastly reduced need for masks have made for a long-awaited sense of normalcy on campus.

“It’s always exciting to return in the fall and see students and colleagues again,” said Storey. “But especially this year, after such a long stretch of masks and social distancing and Zoom meetings, it is particularly special. It is so good to be back as a community.”