By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
bartesaghi@montclairlocal.news

Montclair State University will require a coronavirus booster vaccine shot for nearly all students and staff returning to campus for the upcoming spring semester.

The semester starts Jan. 18, though students will have until March 1 to upload proof of their booster shots into the school’s MyHealth Portal. University employees will have until Jan. 21 to upload proof to its Vax Check system.

Andrew Mees, director of media relations at Montclair State University, said students who do not submit proof by the deadline will be subject to weekly testing and other restrictions.

The school had already required testing for students who received religious or medical exemptions to its vaccine requirement for students coming to campus in the fall. Testing was and continues to be provided at no cost to the student.

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The school had also barred students with exemptions from participating in intercollegiate athletics and club sports. Students in performing arts degree programs without vaccinations couldn’t participate in performances, and were required to be six feet from other students in studio instructions. Unvaccinated students also were required to live in single rooms if living on campus. 

Montclair State University community members and visitors are still required to fill out the school’s Hawk Check self-screening tool before coming to campus, Mees said. 

“While case numbers have risen, the symptoms associated with the omicron variant have been shown to be more mild than previous variants, with only one case in the university community leading to hospitalization (and that person has recovered),” the school said in an announcement. 

As of Jan. 13, Mees said, more than 93% of the student campus population and 94% of employees were fully vaccinated, with at least two shots of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or one of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

To help students get their booster vaccines, Montclair State University will be offering on-campus booster clinics for community members, as well as any Essex County residents, on Jan. 20 and Feb. 10, Mees said. Both clinics are at capacity, but the school was directing members of its community to Essex County’s three testing and vaccination centers, at the former Kmart in West Orange, the former Sears at the Livingston Mall and Essex County College in Newark.

Mees said the university does not know how many students and staff have received their booster vaccine already. He said the information will be available after the deadline has passed. 

Mees said the university will continue to provide free on-campus testing for students and employees at its Webster Hall.

All students who reside on campus will be required to provide negative PCR tests before returning to residence halls, he said. 

Masking will continue to be required indoors as well as outdoors in crowded settings or when participating in outdoor activities that involve close contact with other people. 

In the announcement, the University also said it will offer a “full complement of in-person instruction and support services in spring 2022.” 

“The pivot to remote learning at the outset of the pandemic in 2020 also showed us that all-virtual instruction is not an ideal model for the students we serve, creating both educational and mental health challenges for many students and exacerbating equity concerns,” the announcement said. “To help all students stay on track, achieve their educational goals and reduce the potential trauma of the pandemic, maintaining an in-person learning environment while keeping our community safe is a priority.” 

Montclair State is one of the 11 New Jersey colleges that are requiring COVID booster vaccines for the spring semester. 

Other colleges include Caldwell University in Caldwell, Drew University in Madison, Felician University in Rutherford, the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, Princeton University in Princeton, Ramapo College of New Jersey in Mahwah, Rutgers University at all three of its campuses, St. Peter’s University in Jersey City, St. Elizabeth University in Morristown and Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken.

An earlier version of this post listed the booster submission deadline as Jan. 1 and included a misspelling of Andrew Mees' name.