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Students, Families Concerned As Colleges Prepare To Welcome Students In Areas With Low COVID-19 Vaccination Rates

CHICAGO (CBS) --As kindergarten through 12th grade districts grapple with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's new guidance, major Illinois universities continue their push for vaccinations ahead of the school year.

As students prepare to head back to campus, many students and families are concerned about safety on campus, especially at schools in communities where vaccination rates remain low.

As universities across the state prepare to welcome back students, pandemic safety remains a top priority.

"We will take every measure to help them be safe and stay safe and feel safe," said Kim Rendfeld, the director of communication for Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

Rendfeld said even though the school is not requiring students get vaccinated before returning, they are strongly encouraged to do so. Even without requiring vaccinations, Rendfeld said the school has had success limiting the spread of the virus, but that policy is not set in stone.

"We are going to continue to monitor the situation, and if we need to we will adjust our plans," she said.

She said the school has heard from some students and families concerned about attending school in a county with a relatively low vaccination rate.

Recent data from the Illinois Department of Public Health shows less than 40% of Jackson County residents are fully vaccinated. With a population of more than 57,000, that leaves more than 35,000 people without protection from COVID-19. In DeKalb County, home to Northern Illinois University, 42% of residents are vaccinated. That leaves more than 60,000 residents who haven't gotten a shot, although it's required for NIU students. And in Chicago, most major private and public universities are requiring students show up vaccinated, as the city's vaccination rate lingers around 50%.

"It's one thing for me to just be vaccinated but for everyone to be vaccinated, that makes me feel a lot more comfortable," said Orla Molloy, a University of Chicago graduate.

Some students at the University of Chicago say while they are concerned about surrounding communities having lower rates of vaccination, they believe the school is doing what it can to protect students.

"I'm certainly concerned that it's going to draw back, but I think that the University will do what it can to make sure we're in person in the fall and vaccinations really help with that," said Tarren Peterson, a second year graduate student.

CBS 2reached out to the Jackson County Health Department about challenges it is facing in vaccination efforts and was still waiting to hear back at 6 p.m. Friday.

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