LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The Lawrence area has lifted more coronavirus restrictions, with a growing number of University of Kansas employees and students getting vaccinated.
The Douglas County Commission voted Wednesday to eliminate the mass-gathering limit while keeping its mask mandate in place. The new health order also provides more flexibility about occupancy rules for businesses and venues, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.
The county's public health officer, Dr. Thomas Marcellino, said that especially with new variants of the virus, it was important to keep some restrictions in place.
“What we don’t want to do is let off the throttle here too quickly,” he said.
The move came on the same day that Andrew Foster, the university's emergency management coordinator, shared on a video update that 62.7% of school employees and 17.7% of its students had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Monday. The numbers represent those who have been vaccinated through the university and those who have told the school that they were vaccinated elsewhere.
Foster said he thinks the true percentage is higher, and he is encouraging those who haven't yet shared that they were vaccinated through a pharmacy or in their home county to tell the university so that the school will get a better sense of how protected it is.
The university hasn't decided yet whether to require students to get vaccinated before returning to campus next fall.
Chancellor Douglas Girod said during a school senate meeting last week that as of then, the university would probably not require vaccinations, but that things could change by the summer. He said the challenge was that the vaccines have been authorized for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under an emergency use authorization, which he said makes it legally difficult to require them.
Some legal experts disagree, pointing out that many colleges already require students to take coronavirus tests that are approved under the same Food and Drug Administration emergency authorization.
Girod said he also recognized that there was a “subcomponent” of the population that is hesitant about getting vaccinated and that he would need to think about how to address such concerns. He said it might be easier to require the vaccine for certain groups, such as students who live in campus housing.
Some universities, such as Rutgers University, the University of Notre Dame and Brown University, have already announced that they will require students to have a COVID-19 vaccine.
Conditions have been improving in Kansas. The latest report from the White House COVID-19 Task Force, dated Friday but released on Tuesday, showed Kansas having “moderate” community spread. That is an improvement from “substantial” transmission a week before, The Wichita Eagle reports.