Wilkes University

Nov. 11 2021

Dear Colleagues, 

We are nearly two years into the pandemic and it is becoming clear that our planning must shift from anticipating when the pandemic may end to learning how we can safely live and operate within it. As a nation, we are incredibly fortunate to have plentiful access to vaccines, and most recently, the booster shots that can keep us well, as long as we utilize them.

The CDC recently shared that unvaccinated individuals are 11 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those who are fully vaccinated. This is a staggering example of why we continue to promote the importance of being vaccinated. We are writing to you today with important information about our vaccination policy heading into the spring semester.

Overview
Wilkes continues to require that employees report their vaccination status to the University. We also continue to honor medical, religious or personal beliefs as reasons not to be vaccinated. Employees who are not vaccinated will be required to participate in weekly assurance testing as they did this fall.

As in the fall, unvaccinated faculty and staff members will be required to upload the results of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of their return to campus in January. Current mitigation protocols, including the wearing of masks indoors, will also continue.

As a reminder, if you have a waiver on file and become vaccinated, please upload your vaccination card and details. You will be removed from the assurance testing program two weeks after your final dose.

Incentives for Vaccinated Employees
Our faculty and staff boast high vaccination rates. As a sign of appreciation to those who have or will be vaccinated, we are introducing the following incentives:

  • Full-time employees who are currently vaccinated, or become vaccinated by Jan. 3, 2022, will receive a $250 to $500 wellness incentive deposited into their health savings account (HSA) or through an equivalent reduction to their payroll contribution. $250 will be provided to those with single coverage and $500 for those at other coverage levels.
  • Full-time employees who are currently vaccinated, or those who become vaccinated by Jan. 3, 2022, and who do not participate in Wilkes insurance plans will continue to receive an extra $50 per pay (known as the medical opt-out payments). Employees who do not participate in insurance plans, and who are not vaccinated, will no longer receive an extra $50 per pay (for 24 pays annually).

Unvaccinated employees will not receive these incentives. For the purpose of this program, employees are considered vaccinated upon receiving all doses of their initial vaccine series by Jan. 3, 2022.

Exemptions
We recognize that some of our faculty and staff members cannot be vaccinated due to special circumstances. Those who cannot be vaccinated due to legitimate medical reasons or sincerely held religious beliefs (supported with a thorough explanation) can apply to receive the incentives listed above; however, weekly testing will continue to be required. Unvaccinated employees will soon receive instructions for applying for medical or religious exemptions through an online form. These requests will be reviewed by an appointed panel of Wilkes employees. No identifying details will be included in that process.

Those unvaccinated employees granted medical or religious exemptions and who provide evidence of an alternate wellness activity will be eligible for earlier described incentives.

Booster Doses
Wilkes will continue to work with the Wilkes-Barre Health Department to offer booster doses on or near campus. Boosters are currently open to those who received their final dose at least six months ago, are 18 years of age and older and are at increased risk due to certain medical conditions or educational settings. We have previously confirmed that all Wilkes faculty, staff and students are now qualified to receive booster doses. As you receive your booster dose, please upload that information.

The science is still determining when an individual is no longer considered fully vaccinated due to not receiving booster doses. We are monitoring these developments and will adjust our policies and practices as needed.

New Employees
It is important to note that these policies also apply to any new employees hired after Jan. 3, 2022. New employees must either be vaccinated or have a waiver on file and participate in weekly assurance testing.

Student Policy
Earlier today, we emailed our students to share that those who are unvaccinated will be charged a $290 fee to cover the expenses associated with our assurance testing program. This fee will be assessed in January to any students who will be on campus for any reason in the spring semester.

As you know, the University has dedicated significant resources to our assurance testing program. This year, we have conducted nearly 10,000 tests. We have done so by relying on existing staff members, student volunteers and hiring temporary nursing help. With a finite budget for the 2021-22 academic year, the University will no longer divert resources to pay for the assurance testing program. The cost of the program will be passed along to the students who must use it on a regular basis.

Let me be very clear: getting vaccinated is the best way to combat COVID-19. The existing vaccines are extremely safe and highly effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death. We implore you to get vaccinated for your own health, for those you care about and for our ability to continue to offer a fulfilling campus experience. And when you are eligible, get your booster shot. Please do your part. We are all in this together.