Despite the University of New Hampshire’s recent announcement that all employees must soon be vaccinated against COVID-19 to comply with a federal mandate, the shot remains optional for faculty and staff at Keene State College, school officials said Monday.
College President Melinda Treadwell said that, unlike UNH, Keene State is not subject to the nationwide vaccine requirement for federal contractors that President Joe Biden announced last month.
“Our current federal contracts do not yet trigger this requirement for the College,” Treadwell said in a written statement. “We are continuing to monitor the situation in order to ensure our research and sponsored projects [and] activities continue and that we are compliant with state and federal requirements.”
According to the Treadwell, state institutions with contract work exceeding $250,000 for any single contract are subject to federal requirements. Keene State does not currently have contracts that exceed that threshold.
In an Oct. 22 letter to employees and students, UNH President James Dean Jr. announced that to comply with last month’s executive order from Biden, the university will require all faculty and staff to be inoculated. All employees — including students who work for the university — will need to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8, he wrote. That is the deadline established under the vaccine mandate for federal contractors.
In September, Biden announced sweeping federal vaccine requirements. According to the Associated Press, the mandate requires that workers at private companies with more than 100 employees get vaccinated or be tested weekly. (Final rules for this portion of the mandate are still forthcoming.) It also calls for all contractors working with the federal government to be immunized, without an option to test negative in lieu of the vaccine.
Under national guidelines, UNH employees are considered federal contractors, Dean wrote, adding that the university receives more than $130 million annually in federal research funding.
“... [A]nyone who works on federal contracts, supports federal contracts or comes into contact with those who do are part of this requirement,” Dean wrote in the Oct. 22 letter. “After a detailed review of interactions on the Durham campus, we cannot find a way to exclude any group of employees.”
Earlier this year, the state Legislature passed House Bill 220 — the so-called “medical freedom in immunization” law — which limits the University System of New Hampshire’s power to enact COVID-19 vaccine mandates. In addition to UNH and Keene State, the University System of New Hampshire includes Plymouth State University and Granite State College, with about 32,000 students enrolled across the four institutions.
Keene State has about 3,000 students and 600 employees, and strongly encourages all to get the shot. Those who are vaccinated are asked to provide the school’s Wellness Center with proof of vaccination through a confidential online portal. As of Friday, 69 percent of students and 82 percent of employees at Keene State had reported being vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Lisa Thorne, USNH spokeswoman.
The college conducts campus-wide COVID-19 testing weekly, and anyone who tests positive for the novel coronavirus is contacted by the school’s Rapid Response Team, which provides instructions for isolating. Vaccinated individuals identified as close contacts of people who test positive are not required to quarantine but do need to be tested for the coronavirus three to five days after exposure. Unvaccinated people identified as close contacts must quarantine for 10 days.
As of Sunday, there were five known active COVID-19 cases among Keene State students and two among employees, according to the college’s online COVID-19 dashboard, which is updated each Monday. Since the school year began in late August, 62 students and seven employees have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
At Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, the Monadnock Region’s other residential college, upward of 95 percent of students, faculty and staff have been vaccinated against COVID-19, school officials have said.
Franklin Pierce, which is not subject to the new state law because it’s a private school, is requiring students and employees to be inoculated against the coronavirus this year. Franklin Pierce students and employees can get an exemption from the mandate for medical or religious reasons, though unvaccinated people with an approved exemption must undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.
Franklin Pierce has about 1,200 students and 235 faculty and staff members at its Rindge campus, and like Keene State, is offering full in-person classes this year.