Monmouth, Ocean County colleges tighten COVID vaccine restrictions for spring

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Monmouth University students who were required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 last semester will now have to show evidence of a booster shot to attend class in the spring, officials announced.

Meanwhile, vaccines or weekly testing will be required for students attending Ocean County College in Toms River and Brookdale Community College in Middletown, under new rules instituted for the spring.

Both of those community colleges had no vaccine requirements for the fall semester. Georgian Court University in Lakewood has not changed its COVID rules, requiring vaccinations for all students who live on campus and commute.

“Because of waning immunity considerations for individuals who were fully vaccinated more than five months ago with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or more than two months ago with the J&J vaccine, the university is requiring every member of the Monmouth community (i.e., students, faculty, staff) to get the appropriate booster dose for their initial vaccination series,” Monmouth President Patrick Leahy said in an online message.

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Monmouth University, which began classes last week, held online-only instruction for the first week, with in-person sessions beginning Monday.

Since July 2021, Monmouth University has had 432 confirmed cases, with 15 still active, according to school officials.

“Public health officials have indicated that the omicron variant will likely peak sometime in mid-January, followed by a decline in positive cases and transmission rate,” Leahy’s statement said. “By shifting to emergency remote learning for this discrete period, we hope to mitigate the risk of exposure among our community.”

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Monmouth County officials reported last week that there had been 1,161 new positive cases of COVID between Jan. 18 and Jan. 20, while Ocean County reported 1,857 new cases in the past week.

Monmouth University students and staff will have to provide proof of the vaccine and booster requirement by March 1, officials said.

For Brookdale and Ocean County College students, the vaccine requirements is a sharp change from the fall when only masks on campus were the rule. Both colleges will provide free daily testing for students and staff who decline to be vaccinated.

“It is based on recommendations from the federal and state governments, the high rate of transmission of COVID in Monmouth County and our concern for our staff and students,” said Laura Oncea, a Brookdale spokesperson.

She said students can also opt for remote-only instruction, but with a limited choice of classes. Students returned to Brookdale on Jan. 19, she said.

Ocean County College resumed classes on Monday, with testing sites in operation on campus throughout the day.

“The health and safety of our students and employees is of paramount importance and our decisions are informed by guidance issued from local, state, and federal public health authorities,” a statement on the Ocean County College website stated. “Testing is available for free on campus.”

Ocean County College has reported 144 positive COVID cases since the beginning of 2022, including 43 students and 101 staff members. College officials said more than 100 students had opted for the tests as of Monday afternoon, with many saying they prefer to avoid the vaccine.

Ocean County College student Nicole Campisano, who chose to be tested for COVID-19 on Jan. 24 rather than be vaccinated under the college's new COVID protocol.
Ocean County College student Nicole Campisano, who chose to be tested for COVID-19 on Jan. 24 rather than be vaccinated under the college's new COVID protocol.

Nicole Campisano, an unvaccinated freshman at the Toms River school, is not vaccinated and got tested Monday. “I am also careful about getting a shot for anything in my arm without knowing what is in it.”

Classmate Chris Meyer agreed, saying he would rather be tested than vaccinated and does not believe either is necessary. “I think we should go without it,” he said as he waited in line for a test. “If we’re not sick, I don’t see the need.”

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Harmony Urban, 18, of Barnegat, said she already had COVID and believes the antibodies are keeping her safe. “It is a personal choice,” she said, adding that getting weekly tests “is not too difficult.”

Ocean County College student Harmony Urban, who was tested as part of the college's new COVID protocol
Ocean County College student Harmony Urban, who was tested as part of the college's new COVID protocol

Rutgers University officials, meanwhile, said classes will resume in person on Jan. 31, and that employees will be able to resume their duties in person on that date.

Rutgers’ return to student housing takes place on Jan. 29 and 30.

Joe Strupp is an award-winning journalist with 30 years’ experience who covers education and several local communities for APP.com and the Asbury Park Press. He is also the author of three books, including Killing Journalism on the state of the news media, and an adjunct media professor at Rutgers University and Fairleigh Dickinson University. Reach him at jstrupp@gannettnj.com and at 732-413-3840. Follow him on Twitter at @joestrupp

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Monmouth, Ocean County colleges tighten COVID vaccine rules for spring