August is almost here, and that means the new school year is just a few weeks away! I could not be more excited about this upcoming year, particularly because we are going to be returning to campus with the fewest COVID-19 restrictions in nearly a year and a half. After so much hard work and challenges, we’re entitled to feel exuberant about returning to campus.
However, please note that I said “fewest restrictions,” not “no restrictions.” We will still be utilizing some basic precautionary measures. The Delta variant is causing problems across the country, including here in North Dakota where cases have more than doubled in the past few weeks. Please know that we are closely monitoring the situation, and it’s a good reminder that we do not want cases to rise here again. Please read this email regarding our preparations closely. If each of us commits to doing our part for prevention, we can help minimize the risk to our campus and community.
- Vaccinations. Getting a vaccination is the best way of protecting yourself and others from COVID-19. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control are encouraging vaccines for people age 12 and older; you can find out more information here.
The best way that we can try to minimize the COVID-19 risk is by getting as many members of the campus community vaccinated as we can. However, we understand from the North Dakota University System that we are not allowed to mandate vaccinations, and unfortunately, there is no effective way of knowing who has been vaccinated and who has not.
We are relying on people volunteering to get vaccinated, and NDSU has been very active in coordinating vaccine clinics on campus throughout the summer to make this easier. Vaccine clinics will continue on campus throughout August, including opportunities on Move-In Day, Welcome Week, the first day of classes, and many more. Separate communications will be sent with information about times and places, and updates continue to be made to our Covid-19 website. In addition, Student Health Service will offer vaccinations on an appointment basis for students beginning August 23. Please, please get vaccinated if you haven’t already done so!
- Masks. NDSU will continue with the mask-optional policy that was put in place on June 6, including the following rules:
a. Every person should be comfortable wearing a mask in their personal discretion and should not face any pressure to discontinue doing so.
b. Faculty may require masks to be worn in their classes at their discretion.
c. Health care operations on campus, including Student Health Service, will continue to be able to mandate masks in accordance with regular health care protocols.
Note that the CDC’s new guidelines on vaccinated people wearing masks in areas of high or substantial transmission did not include areas such as Cass County with lower transmission.
- Testing. Last year, the North Dakota National Guard, in cooperation with Fargo Cass Public Health, offered mass testing events on campus. This will not be an option this year. However, student testing will still be conducted at the Student Health Service for individuals with or without symptoms. Faculty and staff should contact their health provider for testing options.
- Quarantine/Isolation. NDSU will continue to expect its students, faculty and staff to follow quarantine and isolation guidance from the North Dakota Department of Health, which can be found here and here. For students living in residence halls, quarantine and isolation options will be provided for you on campus. We are emphasizing the return to the in-person educational environment this year, but faculty will be providing alternative arrangements to students who have to quarantine/isolate to ensure that they do not fall behind in any courses.
There is already a palpable sense of excitement on campus, and I share that enthusiasm. However, we are not out of the woods yet. NDSU will be doing its part by encouraging and facilitating vaccinations, by continuing to provide plenty of hand-cleaning options, and by having improved the air quality in every 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.
However, the real success will depend upon each and every person reading this email to agree to get vaccinated and to follow the CDC’s guidance on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 through simple measures like hand washing and giving people some extra space. If you get sick this semester, whether its COVID-19, a cold or the flu, please stay home. Do not come to class or work and risk infecting others. The days of powering through illness at work or school are over. With this email, I’m asking supervisors and faculty to be considerate and accommodating to sick employees/students.
Throughout this pandemic, we have come together as a community and helped keep NDSU moving forward. Let’s continue with that spirit of cooperation and safety until this pandemic is over!