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As Delta variant cases continue to surge and institutions adjust their start-of-term plans, most college students support vaccine mandates and remain wary of resuming normal campus life, according to two new polls.

Axios and Generation Lab, a polling and research firm studying young people, found that of 846 students polled at two- and four-year institutions nationwide, 73 percent agreed that their institutions should mandate vaccines on campus.

Likewise, a survey of 1,000 college students conducted last week by TimelyMD, a telehealth provider created for universities and colleges, found that students who attend institutions with mask and vaccine mandates overwhelmingly support the measures, with 85 percent in favor of vaccine requirements and 87 percent in favor of mask mandates. For students whose campuses don’t have mandates in place, 55 percent said they wished their campuses required masks and/or COVID-19 vaccines.

Gerri Taylor, co-chair of the American College Health Association’s COVID-19 task force, said students’ attitudes about mask and vaccine mandates are “heartening.”

“I think that their No. 1 desire right now is to get back to campus and life as it was before COVID came into our lives,” Taylor said. “I really applaud the fact that they’re supporting that. And I have to say, I’m not surprised, because I think they know that the best way to get back is to have a safe campus where as many people as possible are immunized.”

The American College Health Association released guidance in April recommending institutions mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for all students coming to campuses this fall. On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, which Taylor said could lead to more people getting vaccinated.

“We’re very hopeful that this new FDA full approval of the Pfizer vaccine will allow more colleges to feel comfortable putting that mandate in place, and it will help more students and families to feel that the vaccine is safe enough for them to take,” Taylor said.

According to the Axios/Generation Lab poll, indoor masking is the most commonly mandated protocol on campuses, with 74 percent of students reporting that requirement at their institutions. In addition, 52 percent of students said their institutions had a vaccine mandate and 28 percent named frequent testing as a requirement; 8 percent reported their schools had no masking, vaccine or testing requirements.

The TimelyMD survey found that 70 percent of students enrolled at institutions without mask mandates said they plan to wear a face mask on campus anyway.

The poll and survey results come as ACHA and other groups condemn state-level restrictions barring colleges from requiring vaccines or other public health measures, such as mandatory masking.

The Axios/Generation Lab poll also asked students which activities they would feel safe participating in, assuming they didn’t know the vaccination status of the others present. Only 38 percent said they would feel comfortable attending an indoor party and 34 percent said they would dance with others; 55 percent responded that they wouldn’t feel safe engaging in any of the suggested activities, which also included playing a drinking game and kissing a stranger. Sixty-one percent agreed that their institutions should impose restrictions on attending parties and other large social gatherings on campus.

The TimelyMD survey also queried students about their mental health. Seventy-seven percent said the pandemic and the new COVID-19 variants have heightened their emotional distress and anxiety, and 60 percent of respondents reported feeling more stress and anxiety than they did a year ago. ACHA’s Taylor said mandates could be a way to reduce COVID anxiety for students.

“Mental health issues increased with COVID, and we believe that increasing vaccination rates and masking will help students, faculty and staff feel more comfortable and safe and hence hopefully decrease their anxiety and help everyone to begin the semester with a better sense of normalcy than over the past year,” Taylor said.

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