California State University — the nation’s largest four-year public university system — will require students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campus for the fall semester. Medical and religious exemptions will be allowed, with unvaccinated students having to undergo regular coronavirus testing.

The decision announced Tuesday was prompted by the ongoing rise in the Delta variant throughout California. It came one day after state officials announced that government and healthcare workers would be required to show proof of vaccination, and more than a week after the University of California mandated vaccines for students and employees.

“The current surge in COVID cases due to the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant is an alarming new factor that we must consider as we look to maintain the health and well-being of students, employees and visitors to our campuses this fall,” said Cal State Chancellor Joseph I. Castro. “Receiving a COVID vaccine continues to be the best way to mitigate the spread of the virus. We urge all members of the CSU community to get vaccinated as soon as possible, and announcing this requirement now allows members of the CSU community to receive multiple doses of a vaccine as we head into the beginning of the fall term.”

Cal State’s process will largely rely on trust, spokesperson Mike Uhlenkamp said. Students would have to certify that they are fully vaccinated or seeking an exemption and attest that their answers are accurate and truthful. A Cal State campus could independently request proof of vaccination as a next step in the initial certification process.

Logistics for the policy are still being hashed out, and Cal State is still in discussion with faculty labor union groups.

It’s unclear what type of disciplinarian action could be taken against someone who did not adhere to the requirement, but at this point the policy includes a warning that any student or employee who does not provide certification “may be denied access to Campus/Programs.”

All certifications must be completed no later than Sept. 30, but the deadline may be sooner for some campuses as not all 23 universities have the same semester start date.

Roughly 11.9 million adults ages 18 to 24 have been fully vaccinated within the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accounting for about 43% of that population group.

It’s unclear how many students across the Cal State system have already been vaccinated, but the gaps are expected in areas that show lower vaccination rates. Although Cal State will offer more online class options than it did prior to the pandemic, it’s unlikely a student could opt to take a fully virtual course load.

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