Governors shun vaccine mandates as colleges beg for help

School leaders in states like Florida, Arizona, Texas and Tennessee hoped to bring life back to their dorms and lecture halls this fall as the pandemic appeared to wane earlier this year and vaccinations were on the rise. Instead, they’re in the throes of combating the highly contagious Delta variant and vaccine resistance, scrambling their defenses and pleading with GOP lawmakers who left them to fight the disease without strong safety protocols.

“They are handcuffing these institutions in their ability to mitigate Covid … It’s just bad health policy,” said Anita Barkin, co-chair of the American College Health Association’s Covid-19 task force. “I’m concerned we’re on a very bad trajectory with what’s happening here.”

Following advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, college presidents have been pushing students and staff to wear masks and enticed students with prizes if they get inoculated against Covid-19. But unlike schools in many blue states, several institutions in conservative regions lack the stick that might nudge holdouts, which in some cases represent 40 percent or more of the student body. Some university leaders are publicly battling mask and vaccine bans; others are taking a quieter approach and speaking with government officials who have significant sway over the budgets and operations of public universities. None of the leaders have successfully moved the needle for rescinding standing laws.