Mask mandate sign

Those who have opted for exemptions undergo regular COVID-19 testing in place of the vaccine. (Eliza Green / Daily Titan)

With spring registration holds underway, 99.47% of Cal State Fullerton students have COVID-19 vaccinations or exemptions as of Nov. 19, the most recent data according to the CSUF COVID-19 Case and Exposure Dashboard.

Students who have neither a vaccine nor approved exemption are unable to register for spring classes, according to the timeline from the CSU chancellor’s office. Vaccination and exemption rates have been steadily climbing over the semester.

Now, only less than 1% are unaccounted for, 6.13% of students have approved exemptions and 93.34% of students are vaccinated as of Nov. 19, according to the CSUF COVID-19 website.

However, the mandate and subsequent registration holds have stirred controversy in recent weeks, including a rally against mandates involving CSUF and UC Irvine students and local politicians on Saturday.

While the vaccine mandate was announced in July, exemptions are offered on the basis of medical, religious and strongly held beliefs. Mary Becerra, director of health services, said her team has approved just over 2,500 exemptions.

“We don’t have data on how many total exemptions have been submitted, as some folks may have had to submit more than once if there was additional information requested by the reviewer,” Becerra said. “However, most exemption requests submitted have been approved.”

Those determining approval or denial of student exemptions are a team from Health Services, who review documents independently using standard criteria and consult with each other as needed, Becerra said. She said the biggest issue with the exemption process was the volume of requests received and the short time frame her team had to respond before the spring registration deadline.

“Requests submitted that were complete and thorough were approved. Exemptions were not arbitrarily denied; instead, our team reached out to the student or employee and asked for more information, if needed, to approve,” Becerra said.

With registration holds comes a potential fluctuating enrollment rate next semester. Christina Cárdenas, CSUF communications specialist for academic programs, said they cannot predict whether there will be an enrollment drop as the department is still in the middle of spring registration.

“Until we get closer to the deadline, it is hard to know,” Cardenas said. “Registration appointments this year are different from last year, so any comparison would be inadequate at best, and erroneous at worst.”

Those who have opted for exemptions undergo regular COVID-19 testing in place of the vaccine. Marcos Zelada-Rodas, third-year public relations major and chapter president of CSUF’s Turning Point USA, said that most people who are against vaccination mandates do not mind testing.

“They wear their masks in class. They understand what COVID is, and the loss that occurred. We just have a difference in opinion on ‘is the vaccine for me?’ It's their medical choice, just like anything else,” Zelada-Rodas said.

Zelada-Rodas, who was also a speaker at Saturday’s rally, said on Dec. 2 that the exemption process has been fairly simple, but is against the mandates and registration holds in the first place.

“I still completely protest the fact that they have to request anything, which is why so many students refused to request an exemption for most parts of the semester, and even are still refusing until now,” Zelada-Rodas said. “They need to respect people in their medical decisions and find the best way forward to respect individual's choices while still maintaining the safe environment for students.”

Mimicking national controversy, the vaccination mandates spurred student discourse, including Saturday’s rally and a small September protest. These discussions have come to a head in communities like Forum — a debate platform started by CSUF students. The organization recently held a heated discussion on mandates featuring CSUF students on both sides, which circulated on social media.

CSUF employees are just behind student rates in vaccination and approved exemption rates. As of Dec. 3, 93.38% of CSUF employees are vaccinated and 4.9% have approved exemptions, leaving 1.72% unaccounted for as compared to less than 1% of students.

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