Philadelphia is requiring all college employees and students to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by mid-October unless they have a medical or religious exemption.
The new regulations are meant to combat surging coronavirus infections due to the ultra-contagious delta variant, acting Philadelphia Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said in an announcement Friday.
Employees or students with exemptions will be subject to coronavirus tests up to twice a week. If college campuses in Philadelphia have vaccination rates of at least 90%, unvaccinated groups can double mask and keep six feet of distance indoors from others in lieu of testing.
Most Philadelphia colleges had already implemented vaccine mandates before the city's health board issued the new regulations. That includes the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, Thomas Jefferson University, La Salle University and Saint Joseph's University. The Community College of Philadelphia had also announced just days before the city mandate that it was requiring the vaccines for students in the fall.
But some, including Temple University, will have to change their policies to comply with the city's order. Temple said in a statement it is ready to follow the new requirement, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The university had already planned on regularly testing unvaccinated students and employees.
The new requirement highlights the patchwork of policies colleges will have to navigate this fall term. While some cities are adding vaccine requirements for indoor venues to combat the delta variant, others are barring safety measures such as mask mandates — making it harder for colleges to stop the virus's spread.
If a college or university has operations within the city limits, the Philadelphia Health Department expects it to follow the order, an agency spokesperson said in an email to Higher Ed Dive. That would include St. Joseph's, whose campus straddles Philadelphia and the Lower Merion Township.
"The Health Department is in frequent contact with all of the colleges and universities in the city and works with them regularly," Health Department spokesperson James Garrow wrote. "They've been notified of the mandate and we have every expectation that they will follow the guidance."
Other colleges are under starkly different state rules. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order barring colleges and other public entities from mandating coronavirus vaccines or masks. And Arizona similarly tried to prohibit face-covering mandates.
However, Arizona's three public universities said they will require masks in indoor spaces such as classrooms and laboratories, potentially bucking state law. University representatives have defended the move, saying they believe the law prevents them from differentiating between vaccinated and unvaccinated students but does not outlaw broad masking requirements.