Thank you to the 40,000-plus members of the Temple community who rallied to keep campus and Philadelphia healthy and safe
As the deadline for the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate passes, more than 97% of Temple students, faculty and staff are fully vaccinated with another 2.5% approved for medical or religious exemptions.
On the morning of Aug. 13, the city of Philadelphia announced that all students, faculty and staff members at a university or college in the city must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 15 (the deadline was later extended to Nov. 15).
For Temple University, Philadelphia’s largest institution of higher education, this was a game-changer and its leadership and campus health administrators needed to act accordingly.
Within 15 minutes, Mark Denys, senior director of student and employee health services, and the rest of Temple’s COVID-19 Steering Committee gathered on a Zoom call.
“Temple’s position has been the same since vaccines became readily available. We always said that we believed that everyone who could get the vaccine should do just that, but this elevated that,” Denys said. “Just strongly urging our community to get the vaccine was no longer enough and just having a mandate was not enough, either. It takes a lot of effort to get a university of our size into compliance. We had to make a plan to quickly achieve this goal, and I think this is one of the best examples of the Temple community really coming together.”
Come together they did. As of Nov. 19, more than 97% of the Temple community reported as fully vaccinated, which represents nearly 41,000 students, faculty and staff. Another 2.5% received approved medical or religious exemptions. This commitment by students, faculty and staff to keep one another safe has helped the campus regain its vibrancy, which has been a hallmark of the fall semester.
While the goal has been met, the path to get there was not easy. The COVID-19 Steering Committee, which includes representatives from Human Resources, the Provost’s Office, Office of University Counsel, Information Technology Services, Housing and Residential Life, Finance and Administration, Campus Operations, and Strategic Marketing and Communications, met three times weekly to map out a strategy. President Jason Wingard also met with advisors from the College of Public Health and Temple University Health System regarding vaccine promotion, hesitancy and education.
The groups then worked diligently to get the message of the vaccine mandate out to the campus community, using President Wingard’s #VaxUpTU campaign as the message’s backdrop.
Denys and his team immediately started hosting pop-up vaccine clinics. The vaccine was also readily available at various Health Services locations on campus.
Sharon Boyle, associate vice president of human resources, and her colleagues met with employee groups to discuss vaccine hesitancy and outline both the science and safety of the vaccines.
Marylouise Esten, deputy provost and chief of staff, communicated regularly with the deans of Temple’s 17 schools and colleges and their teams, advising them on how they could get the message out to their communities regarding the mandate. They spent many hours reaching out to assist their students and employees in coming into compliance.
More than a dozen email communications were disseminated to different groups of the Temple community in the lead-up to the deadline. Almost 30 social media communications specifically referenced the need to get vaccinated, as well.
Larry Brandolph, interim chief information officer, and his team used Microsoft Power BI to create a COVID-19 data dashboard, which displays COVID-19 surveillance figures. The dashboard was pivotal in keeping the community apprised of Temple’s progress in meeting the city’s mandate.
“While enforcing this mandate was definitely a heavy lift, all of the credit really should go to Temple’s students, faculty and staff members,” Esten said. “Even with a mandate, we know vaccine compliance is not easy. We really saw our community step up and come together to help keep this campus and Philadelphia safe.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is not yet behind us. Some places, including Philadelphia, are already seeing an uptick in cases as the holidays and winter approach. Temple’s Steering Committee continues to meet several times a week for that very reason.
But campus looks familiar again. Even more importantly, the Temple community is together again, and they have themselves to thank for that.