As we near the end of the semester, we need to take stock of where both NDSU and the surrounding community stands in its efforts against COVID-19, and to use that information to plan for our future. With this email, I want to provide some clarity on these issues.
First, let me start by saying that we are in a very good position as compared with the start of the spring semester. When this semester started, North Dakota had just moved past a surge that involved some of the worst metrics anywhere in the country, and the vaccine had only been distributed to a small number of people. At the time, we anticipated that vaccinations would not be widely available to the NDSU community until late summer or fall. Instead, the rate of vaccinations went from a trickle to a flood, and everybody 16 and over became eligible in the middle of spring.
Creating and distributing a safe and effective vaccine in less than a year was truly an amazing feat, and I’m pleased to note that over 55% of eligible Cass County residents have already received at least one dose of vaccination. Recently, President Biden indicated a goal of getting at least one shot to 70% of the population by July 4, and we are supportive of that goal.
NDSU was the first campus in the state to offer vaccinations on campus and has been doing so for several weeks. Many have taken advantage of that convenient opportunity. We intend to continue to explore ways to help our community receive as many vaccinations as possible, including offering vaccinations to incoming new students next fall. I want to encourage every person who is eligible to get vaccinated. As I recently heard, vaccines don’t end pandemics, vaccinations do.
Notably, as vaccination numbers have improved, the number of infections has decreased significantly. Following state public health guidance, NDSU has been modifying its operations to allow for increased activity. For example, we will soon enjoy a live, in-person commencement for the first time since December of 2019! We are incredibly excited for this opportunity.
Reflecting the above, NDSU will return fully to live and in-person classes with the fall semester. Leading to that, all NDSU remote workers will be returning to campus effective no later than June 7. We continue to look forward to these milestones as we move “back to the future.”
Of course, while the COVID threat is significantly reduced, it has not been eliminated. Because of that, some mitigation efforts will continue, while others will be further relaxed as state policy dictates. Please know that these plans are continuing to evolve, and we are utilizing the advice of both state and campus public health experts.
Also know that, invisible to most of us, NDSU has completed extensive work to improve air quality in every campus building. This primarily involved the addition of bipolar ionization equipment for all air handlers on campus. In addition, portable systems with similar ionization technology and HEPA filtration systems were placed in spaces on campus with no central air handling. The ions created by the equipment help minimize microscopic bacteria, fungi and viruses, and studies have shown that ionization equipment can be an effective tool in reducing common viruses, including beyond COVID-19 issues. In short, our buildings have never been more “healthy”, and this equipment will continue to be used throughout campus.
For the summer, in accordance with state guidelines, all conferences, dining and other spaces shall operate without occupancy rate restrictions. However, we are continuing to evaluate occupancy rates, including classroom occupancy rates, for the fall semester. Additional guidance on these issues will be provided over the summer.
With regard to masks, NDSU will be changing to a mask-optional policy, effective June 6, provided, however, the following rules will continue to be in effect:
- Every person should be comfortable continuing to wear a mask in their personal discretion and should not face any pressure to discontinue mask usage.
- Faculty may require masks to be worn in their classes at their discretion.
- Health care operations on campus, including Student Health Service, will continue to be able to mandate masks in accordance with regular health care protocols.
I understand that these changes may be disconcerting for some. However, the NDSU community has done an amazing job of handling this pandemic, and this is the next stage. Like all the other changes that we’ve embraced in the last year, we will move through it together as a community with patience and grace towards our fellow community members.
Dean L. Bresciani, President