Regents vote to authorize plans for higher ed employee vaccine mandate
The Board of Regents voted unanimously Friday to authorize the creation of an employee COVID vaccine mandate for all higher education employees, barring existing religious and medical exemptions — a move that now clears the way for the chancellor to develop more specific guidelines for implementation by Dec. 1.
The new mandate — which would have to be approved by regents again during a special meeting set for Sept. 30 before taking effect — would encompass any and all employees within the higher education system, “irrespective of job title or tenure status.”
Friday’s vote follows an existing policy from the governor’s office that required all state employees, including those within the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE), to either provide proof of vaccination or submit to weekly COVID tests.
The move also follows a vote last month by the state Board of Health to mandate vaccinations for tens of thousands of college students enrolling in in-person classes for the spring by a Nov. 1 deadline, among the widest-reaching vaccination requirements for any Nevada institution.
However, officials within the system say the implementation of NSHE’s own vax-or-test system has been slow and unwieldy, delayed by weeks as the process was plagued by technological and reporting issues that administrators said has artificially lowered the number of employees reportedly vaccinated.
According to numbers made public on Friday, the vaccination rates of all employees vary wildly from institution to institution. At the top end, the two institutions with few, if any, student workers — the Desert Research Institute and system administration office — led the pack with 77.2 percent and 74.5 percent of all employees vaccinated, respectively.
At the bottom were the system's smallest and most rural institutions, Great Basin College (52.4 percent) and Western Nevada College (47.6 percent). In the middle, the state’s largest institutions hovered around the halfway mark, with UNLV (58.2 percent) leading the College of Southern Nevada (53.1 percent) and UNR (52.5 percent).
Those numbers came with several caveats, and the system’s chief counsel, Joe Reynolds, said in part that the inconsistencies in the data provided through the state’s vaccination database, WebIZ, created gaps in data tracked by the system’s own human resources software, Workday.
College and university officials said the reported number of vaccinated employees is likely lower than the true number as a result, and the share of vaccinated employees is expected to rise in the coming days and weeks as mistakes and discrepancies are addressed.
Indeed, some increases have already begun. Between Tuesday and Friday, the number of vaccinated employees at Nevada State College (NSC) rose from 61.2 percent to 65 percent, according to a tweet from NSC President DeRionne Pollard.
More than that, Reynolds said the share of vaccinated employees varied widely between different groups of employees. At UNR, for instance, he said more than 74 percent of academic and administrative faculty were vaccinated — roughly 22 percent more than the total share reported as of Tuesday.
In all, 56 percent of all system employees were vaccinated, according to data current as of Tuesday.
The debate over COVID vaccinations and vaccine mandates comes as colleges and universities nationwide have sought to vastly increase the number of in-person classes and experiences in the wake of a year of virtual learning that frustrated students and faculty, ate away at enrollment numbers and tanked institutional budgets.
In Nevada, the share of those in-person classes has varied widely from institution to institution, with as little as 6 percent of fully online courses at UNR to more than 55 percent of classes at the College of Southern Nevada being delivered virtually.
On campus, the number of reported COVID-19 cases continued to rise through the month of August and into September, though a relatively low number of total cases has created wide swings in the week-to-week percentage change in new positive tests.
As of Sept. 3, the last week of available data, NSHE institutions reported a combined 32 positive cases, up 23 percent from the 26 cases reported the previous week.