GVSU holds town hall to answer questions about COVID procedures and fall preparations

Fountain on the Allendale Campus.
Image Credit: Kendra Stanley-Mills

More than 1,100 people joined the Fall 2021 Virtual Town Hall August 19 to hear answers to questions about COVID-19 requirements on campus as well as preparations for fall.

President Philomena V. Mantella said it has been exciting to see the campus come alive over the past several weeks. She said while it’s an exciting time, it is also an anxious time. 

“I want to thank everyone for their patience, diligence, grace and support as we work through this very difficult situation,” said Mantella. “All of you have done amazing work at keeping our university focused, keeping our care for students central and keeping our readiness planning moving.”

Mantella said decision making has been focused on ensuring community safety, keeping learning happening and making sure the Grand Valley family has the full experience campus offers. She said there is immense expertise on GVSU’s Virus Action Team.

“We continue to mount our expertise, we continue to follow the science, we continue to work with public health experts, and through that, we continue to forge our own path,” she said.

Those who registered for the town hall could submit questions ahead of time. Many were about GVSU’s vaccine requirement and vaccine exemptions.

Greg Sanial, vice president for Finance and Administration and director of the Virus Action Team, said the vaccine, mask and testing requirements all work together to help provide the safest campus community possible. He said GVSU’s requirement for students and employees to be vaccinated by September 30 is tied to FDA approval.

“FDA approval is expected by Labor Day,” said Sanial. “If that approval is delayed, we could look to adjust the September 30 date.”

Sanial said an exemption committee, separate from the Virus Action Team, is reviewing medical and religious exemptions and postponements. The committee is made up of individuals with backgrounds in diversity, inclusion, health care, human resources, law and religion. He said members are working to provide timely responses.

Dr. Habiba Hassouna, an infectious disease physician at Spectrum Health, said COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the U.S are safe and highly effective in preventing severe infections, hospitalization and death from COVID-19 and its variants. 

“These vaccines have been developed with technology that has been here for decades and have passed all necessary steps and clinical trials. They are undergoing the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history,” she said.

Hassouna said those who have already had COVID should still get the vaccine. “While COVID infection does offer some immunity to the virus, this immunity will wane and decline with time,” said Hassouna. “The COVID vaccine itself will actually boost the immunity that you got from the natural infection to make it a stronger immunity and a more durable one.”

Panelists outlined information about the GVSU Databoard which tracks the number of cases on campus and vaccination rates. Free vaccine clinics will be available during move-in week and the first week of classes.

Group photo of town hall panelists.
Image Credit: Amanda Pitts

Kyle Boone, director of Housing and Residence Life, said his staff is eager and ready to welcome students to campus. “We have a lot of programs and community building planned to create a space that lets you know you belong here,” said Boone. “We will be following Grand Valley’s safety protocols and we have a number of supports in place for students who may need to quarantine or isolate.”

Kate Harmon encouraged students to get involved in Laker Welcome Events during the first six weeks of the semester. “Get a head start in making connections and finding your social group,” she said. 

Harmon said it’s a stressful and challenging time for some students and resources are available to promote healthy well-being, including the Counseling Center, Recreation and Wellness, Social Justice Centers and Campus Interfaith Resources.

Doug Lipinski, deputy director of Athletics for External Affairs, encouraged Lakers to attend any of the seven home football games this season. “We are super excited to have sports back on campus to bring in that Laker spirit,” he said.

Lipinski said a few changes include a cashless system for all athletic venues, including purchasing tickets, parking passes, merchandise and concessions. Tickets are now digital; they can be printed at home or scanned from a smartphone. Students no longer need a ticket; they can attend by showing their student ID.

President Philomena V. Mantella
President Philomena V. Mantella
Image Credit: Kendra Stanley-Mills

In closing, Mantella encouraged the campus community to adhere to the policies around vaccination, masking and testing to lower risk on campus. “The ‘why’ for these policies is about community safety, keeping learning happening and preserving the full experience for our students,” she said.

For questions about GVSU COVID-19 requirements, email the GVSU Virus Action Team at virusactionteam@gvsu.edu or see the FAQs on the Lakers Together website.