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Montana State University doesn’t have a clear picture on how many students are vaccinated as it continues incentivizing vaccinations among its student population.

MSU officials responded to questions from the university Faculty Senate during a meeting on Wednesday, providing updates on vaccination incentives for students and mask guidance for faculty members.

“We know we don’t have the vaccinations rates we have to have,” Chris Kearns, vice president of student success told the Faculty Senate.

The university’s incentive program offers vaccinated students a chance to win prizes that are drawn weekly and $5,000 financial assistance awards drawn at the end of the semester. Students who enter automatically receive a $10 credit on their CatCard.

The university plans to roll out another major communication push to students next week and it’s hopeful to see a bump in students accessing vaccines, he said.

As of Wednesday, Kearns said the university has had about 3,700 students sign up for the student vaccination sweepstakes, which is open to any students who has received a COVID-19 vaccine, even if it was outside of MSU.

Since first starting COVID-19 vaccine clinics in February, University Health Partners has administered around 5,000 doses, most of those to students, Jim Mitchell, vice president for student wellness, told the Faculty Senate.

The University Health Partners last week organized a walk-up vaccine clinic on the main campus to coincide with other welcome-back events. Around 100 students show up, but Mitchell said staff had hoped for a larger turnout.

With students arriving from around the country and possibly accessing vaccines in other locations, it’s hard to know exactly how many of them have been vaccinated, Mitchell said. House Bill 702, a new state law that limits people from inquiring about vaccination status, also hampers the university from collecting that information, he said.

HB 702 does not allow vaccine requirements for emergency authorized vaccines, Mitchell said, but with Pfizer’s full approval, the decision rests with the Board of Regents, Mitchell said.

Like other places in the country, the university is in a place where most people who want to get the vaccine have already done so.

Mitchell said he was hopeful that full Food and Drug Administration authorization of the Pfizer vaccine will encourage more people to get the vaccine who might have been holding out under the emergency authorization.

“We’re hoping it will motivate more people to be vaccinated,” he said.

The number of positive cases seen at the university’s symptomatic student testing site has seen a slow uptick too. Last week the site saw averaging 20-25 students seeking testing with about 10% positive, Mitchell said. As of Tuesday, there were 49 students tested with 14% positive.

The university is tracking local COVID-19 spread and hospitalizations and “going day-by-day,” Mitchell said.

After about a week of requiring masks in indoor instructional spaces, Matt Caires, dean of students, said the university was seeing students and staff complying with the mask policy.

“From my perspective, it’s gone remarkably well,” Caires said in an interview Thursday. “… The lion’s share of our students are complying with our requirement.”

As of Wednesday, he said he’s had about five students referred to his office for noncompliance with the mask policy, which is handled like any other issue of student conduct code violations. All of the students referred to his office to date are working through an informal process and about half of them been resolved, he said.

If a student disagrees with the policy, Caires said they always have the right to leave.

President Waded Cruzado extended the 100% refund withdrawal deadline to Aug. 31 to accommodate anyone who wanted to withdrawal following the classroom mask policy announcement last week, he said. Students deciding to withdrawal now receive 75% refund, which will be prorated to 50% next week. As students progress into the semester, a refund is no longer available.

“We’re encouraging faculty to be very generous in terms of listening to students, hearing their concerns and also being firm in the terms of expectations,” Caires said.

During the Faculty Senate meeting on Wednesday, Caires was asked about why masks have not been required outside of the classroom space, like dorms.

“The president moved us from defcon five to defcon six. She didn’t move us to seven or nine,” he said, adding if spread continues and there are more hospitalizations, it’s possible the president could decide to increase the response.

Caires said Cruzado and other university administrators meet daily to discuss and actively review COVID-19 data and updates from health care providers and the county health department.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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