By Jack Zampillo, Opinion Editor
If you’re transferring to another college or university in the fall, you might be required to be vaccinated. Or you might be able to go to class without a mask.
As colleges across the country seek a safe way to return to full-capacity classrooms, approaches vary widely, with some raising ethical concerns. At one school in Michigan, students are required to wear a device that seems like it comes straight out of science fiction.
Oakland University near Detroit adopted a technological advancement called the BioButton in fall 2020. The coin-sized device attaches to the upper half of one’s chest with medical adhesive and constantly measures skin temperature, respiratory rate and heart rate. The button can also report if someone has been in close contact with another student who may have COVID-19, giving the school an effective way to do contact tracing.
Students are not required to wear one, but the device is free for all involved with the university. The device has ignited controversy among Oakland’s students.
Moraine’s director of health technology programs, Mari Petrik, said the device raises issues.
“I think it’s a good idea, I just have a lot of concerns,” Petrik said. “Where is this information going? How can we be sure our privacy is safe?”
BioButton’s official website states that the device is capable of measuring up to nine areas of a person’s health, including things such as sleeping patterns, gait analysis, and activity level. The website also states that the device is approved under HIPAA. Established in 1996. HIPAA is a federal law that protects one’s private health information and prevents it from being disclosed without consent from the patient.
Petrik questions whether users of the BioButton are protected by HIPAA.
“This type of implementation at any level needs to be really looked at against federal and state legislation,” she stated. “I’m not sure the company that created the BioButton falls into the categories that HIPAA protects.”
It’s safe to say Moraine Valley won’t be adopting the BioButton anytime soon, but Petrik believes that with proven legitimacy and effectiveness, the device will be adopted by other schools.
More than 100 universities requiring vaccine
Chicagoland universities such as Loyola and Roosevelt are taking a more direct, safer approach to decreasing the COVID spread. They join more than 100 universities nationwide requiring their students to be vaccinated before returning to campus in the fall.
Loyola’s website states, “If not fully vaccinated by the start or the 2021-2022 academic year or your move-in date, you will be unable to live in residence halls, attend in-person classes, or participate in non-campus events.”
Roosevelt announced its vaccination requirements on April 26: “The health and safety of our students, faculty and staff continues to be the top priority of Roosevelt’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective protection against the spread of the virus and serious adverse health effects.”
Meanwhile, universities such as Illinois State and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have plans for in-person classes without requiring vaccinations.
Moraine to host vaccine clinic May 17
The first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will be available to the Moraine community and members of the general public in Building M from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday. Click here to register for an appointment.
Both schools offer vaccination and testing sites, but consider vaccination a choice. Illinois State President Larry Dietz stated, “Students will be on campus participating in face-to-face courses, living in on-campus housing, engaging in in-person activities, events, and out-of-classroom experiences.”
At this point, Moraine Valley has no plan to require vaccinations for a return in the fall, but the college “strongly encourages” students and staff to be vaccinated.
Nursing Program Coordinator Georgina Murphy praises the college’s approach.
“Moraine Valley has done an excellent job with handling this pandemic,” Murphy said. “Especially with their COVID-tracking team”
If a student at Moraine Valley tests positive or is possibly exposed to COVID-19, that person and anyone who may have been in close contact with them is advised to quarantine until a negative test can be provided.