The Santa Barbara City College Board of Trustees voted to instate a vaccine mandate for the upcoming fall semester during a special meeting Thursday.
In a 6-1 vote, the trustees reversed a prior decision to not require a vaccine mandate and are now requiring that all students, with limited exceptions, be fully vaccinated on or before Oct. 1 or when one of the vaccines receives full Food and Drug Administration approval, whichever comes first.
A few exceptions to the vaccine mandate apply to students who have an approved exemption based on medical, disability or religious grounds. Pregnant students are also eligible for a deferral.
The decision came after weeks of mounting tensions surrounding the Board of Trustees, as many faculty members, students and staff spoke out against the board’s decision to not require a mandate. The board fielded input from more than 30 public commenters during Thursday’s meeting, who spoke both for and against a vaccine mandate.
In the end, the board’s decision rested on what was best for the safety of students and faculty, Trustee Peter Haslund said Thursday.
“We need to do whatever is possible to create a safe environment on our campus, for students,” Mr. Haslund said. “Without a safe environment, we can’t do what we do best, which is to teach.”
The resolution for a vaccine mandate was introduced by Trustee Jonathan Abboud, who urged the board to align with recommendations from Acting California Community College Chancellor Daisy Gonzales and the California Community College Board of Governors President Pamela Haynes, who are asking that all community colleges in the state to adopt a mandate given the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant.
“SBCC is a community college, and our students, employees and community are our priorities,” Mr. Abboud said Thursday. “Our students and employees are a major part of the community. Our actions have a wide impact.”
“Enough is enough,” he later added. “We want this pandemic to end, and it’s only possible through herd immunity quickly achieved through mass vaccinations. Waiting for people to come along is not going to get this finished, and this resolution is the most effective way to keep our students, our employees and the entire SBCC community safe and healthy. It is our most important contribution to reaching herd immunity and ending the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Trustee Veronica Gallardo was the only board member opposed to the resolution, telling the board that adopting a vaccine mandate would limit opportunities for students who are looking to SBCC for an education.
“Our job is to open doors, not close them, and to break down barriers, not add more,” Ms. Gallardo said Thursday.
The decision from SBCC comes at a time when Santa Barbara County is facing a surge in case rates associated with the predominant delta variant.
On Friday, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department reported 110 new cases of COVID-19 and one new death. The individual who died resided in the North County unincorporated areas and was between the ages of 30 and 49.
Officials reported 27 new cases in Santa Maria, 18 new cases in Santa Barbara and the unincorporated area of Mission Canyon, and 15 new cases in Lompoc, including the communities of Mission Hills and Vandenberg Village, and in Orcutt. Nine new infections were recorded in the Santa Ynez Valley, eight were recorded in Goleta, four infections were reported in Isla Vista and the North County unincorporated areas, three were recorded in the South Coast unincorporated areas and the City of Carpinteria and two infections were reported in the unincorporated area of the Goleta Valley and Gaviota. Five infections were pending on Friday.
With cases of the delta variant on the rise, the Public Health Department is continuing its efforts to vaccine those eligible for shots. Every Sunday through Wednesday, a walk-in clinic offering the Pfizer vaccine is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Santa Maria Fairpark. The clinic is also open every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
In addition, this Sunday the department will be operating a walk-up clinic at Our Lady of Guadalupe at 227 North Nopal Street in Santa Barbara.
As of Thursday, 70.9% of the county’s eligible 12 and older population received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 62.4% of the same population was fully vaccinated. Of the entire county population, 52.8% of people were vaccinated as of Thursday. The county’s vaccination data lags by one day.