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UA, other Arizona universities will require workers to have COVID shots by Dec. 8

'Bear down and vax up' — Robbins

Arizona's three state universities will require all employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to comply with new federal guidelines, officials announced Friday.

The deadline for employees to submit proof of vaccination, or to receive a religious or disability accommodation, is Dec. 8.

In September, President Joe Biden signed an executive order requiring institutions that contract with the federal government to comply with guidance from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force. This includes a move to vaccinate employees, allowing for exemptions, as well as requirements for masking against COVID-19 if the facility is in an area with "high or substantial" community transmission of the disease.

The Arizona Board of Regents said Friday that the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, and Northern Arizona University will comply with the guidelines.

"The universities have hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts, funding critical research, employment and educational efforts. We respect individual opinions regarding the vaccine and will include disability (including medical) and religious accommodations consistent with federal rules," said Julie Newberg, a spokesman for the Board. "This includes undergraduate and graduate student employees," she said.

"The universities are communicating with their employees regarding the vaccination requirement and how to upload their vaccine documentation," she said. "The universities offer vaccinations on campus and resources to find alternative vaccination sites."

In an email to employees at the University of Arizona, President Robert C. Robbins reiterated ABOR's statements, adding that the UA has already "has received amended federal contracts that include this requirement." 

"While we respect individual opinions regarding the vaccine, we will continue with these mission-critical endeavors and will be complying with this new requirement," Robbins said.

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Robbins said that employees could upload their vaccine documents to comply with the requirement, and that employees who still need to be vaccinated can go to  campus health, or use the federal government's vaccine finder for help.

Data from the UA shows that on Thursday, there were 5 positive cases of COVID-19 identified through campus-wide testing. The UA ran 670 tests and the positivity rate was 0.7 percent. Since the semester began in August, there have been just under 600 cases of COVID-19 on campus, and the overall positivity rate was around 1.5 percent.

Since the pandemic began last year, there have been 1.1 million cases in Arizona, and 20,491 people died from the novel coronavirus. Even after 19 months, the number of cases in Arizona remains high as the state endured 15,736 cases over the last seven days, with around 177 deaths.

Nationwide, there have been 44 million cases, and more than 720,000 people have died.

In Pima County, there were 1,867 cases over the last seven days, and zero deaths. However, there were 129 new hospital admissions, according to CDC data. While the UA's positivity rate is below one percent, Pima County's rate is above 8 percent, and Arizona's overall positivity rate ranges to as high as 16.99 percent in Mohave County—the county with the lowest vaccination rate at just 40.2 percent of those eligible.

So, far the state has administered 7.9 million vaccine doses, covering around 61 percent of the eligible population, which includes children 12-years-old and older, as well as adults. The CDC has yet to clear the vaccine for kids 5-11, though there are signs that's coming within the next several weeks.

Nationwide, around 76.9 percent of people eligible have received at least one dose.

In Pima County, just under 68 percent of the eligible population has been vaccinated, and officials in the county are waiting for the CDC to clear the vaccine for children 5-11, which covers around 88,000 kids.

The UA has pushed for vaccinations throughout the year, becoming one of the state's large-scale point-of-deliveries for vaccinations in Feb., which continued until June 25 delivering nearly 243,000 doses, including more than 4,400 in a single day.

And, earlier this month, the university began offering raffle prizes for campus housing residents who uploaded their vaccination documents, or who took a COVID-19 test on campus—including weekly drawings for a $1,500 rent credit or $500 in "CatCash."

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"Bear down and vax up," said Robbins. 

State Republicans attack vaccine mandate

After Biden announced the vaccination requirement, Arizona Attorney General and Senate-hopeful Mark Brnovich launched a lawsuit, arguing that the president's Covid-19 vaccine mandate for large employers discriminates against U.S citizens because the vaccine is not mandated for immigrants who enter the country illegally.

In his 15-page complaint, Brnovich—who hopes to unseat Sen. Mark Kelly next year—argued that the White House has "adopted an unconstitutional policy of favoring aliens that have unlawfully entered the United States over actual U.S. citizens, both native and foreign born, with the inalienable right to live here."

"Stay tuned. Our lawsuit right here is the first salvo in pushing back against the federal government’s vaccine mandates, and it will not be the last salvo," Brnovich said.

Brnovich follows Gov. Doug Ducey who has repeatedly attacked vaccine mandates or requirements, including Biden's.

"Biden and his belief that he has endless power over the American people will not go unchecked," Ducey said. "We will make sure of it. We will pursue every legal and administrative option to make sure that President Biden doesn’t cause permanent damage to the United States economy and our individual freedoms."

Earlier this year, Ducey signed a handful of laws latched onto the must-pass budget that limited schools and universities from requiring vaccines, or mandating masks. Those laws were blunted by a Maricopa County judge on Sept. 28. 

Ducey also implemented two programs designed to punish public schools from mandating masks using federal funds for COVID-19 relief, a move that federal officials at the U.S. Treasury warned could require the state to repay millions in federal funds.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

A display at the celebration of the University of Arizona's vaccination site as it closed on June 25.

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