I am writing to amend the mask policy that has been in place at NDSU since June 6. Unfortunately, the Delta variant has caused a significant surge in the number of COVID-19 cases. While the biggest impact is being felt in the southeastern part of the country, our own region and county are showing a noticeable uptick in cases. Earlier this week, Fargo Cass Public Health (FCPH) issued a press release indicating that Cass County now has a “substantial COVID-19 transmission rate,” and FCPH recommended that all residents wear masks in indoor public settings, including people who are fully vaccinated. The full text of the press release can be found at the bottom of this email.
This is a worrisome development. A few weeks ago, on July 4, Cass County only had 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Just one month later, on August 4, Cass County had 140 confirmed cases. Although the total number is far below our prior caseloads, the rate of increase is disturbing. It is also more than the number that we had one year ago on August 4 (111 cases).
Unfortunately, the new Delta variant is much more contagious than the original strain of COVID. According to the CDC, each person infected with the original strain of COVID-19 infected approximately 2.7 other people. With the Delta variant, evidence indicates that each infected person may infect between five and nine other people. Even if you are cavalier about your own safety because you perceive (rightly or wrongly) that you are not at risk, I would ask you whether you are comfortable with infecting up to nine other people, some of whom may be at high risk of significant illness or death. I hope you are not. Nobody should be.
Although the Delta variant is much more highly contagious, we can prevent a repeat of last year, and the way to do it is very simple. Unlike last year, we have an incredibly safe and effective weapon . . . vaccinations. Vaccinations are highly protective against both the original strain of COVID-19 as well as the Delta variant. In fact, vaccinations’ protective effect against hospitalization is above 90%, which is the most important reason for vaccination (preventing serious illness and death).
Every person who can medically receive a vaccination should be getting one. That action would bring this pandemic to an end very quickly. There are ten vaccination clinics scheduled at NDSU in the upcoming weeks. Please take advantage of this convenient opportunity.
However, because vaccination rates are still not high enough, we need to resort to other mitigation efforts. This means masks, which are effective (albeit frustrating) at helping to reduce transmission, need to be used. As noted above, the FCPH is recommending mask usage for indoor public places for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people. NDSU will follow this guidance.
Effective Monday, August 9, NDSU is strongly recommending that all people wear masks in indoor spaces when social distancing cannot be maintained. The following rules will also apply:
- Every person should be comfortable wearing a mask and is encouraged to do so. People should not face any pressure to discontinue doing so.
- Faculty may require masks to be worn in their classes at their discretion.
- Health care operations on campus, including Student Health Service and Counseling Center, will continue to be able to mandate masks in accordance with regular health care protocols.
This is a fluid situation, and if the transmission rates in the area continue to climb, we may be required to take more aggressive actions. Let’s avoid that result by getting vaccinated. Please get one, if you haven’t already done so.
TEXT OF FCPH PRESS RELEASE:
New Recommendations Due to Delta Variant Spread
FARGO, N.D. (August 3, 2021) – On July 27, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released updated guidance that stresses the importance of COVID-19 vaccination, addresses new masking guidelines in certain areas, and provides guidelines for safely returning to schools. In accordance, Fargo Cass Public Health (FCPH) encourages the community to follow these recommendations to slow the spread of COVID-19, predominantly the Delta variant. Cass County, as of July 31, is now designated as having a substantial COVID-19 transmission rate. In counties with a substantial or high transmission rate, residents are recommended to wear masks in indoor public settings; this includes those who are fully vaccinated. This designation is continuously monitored and based on new cases, positivity rate, hospitalizations, deaths, social vulnerability index, and testing.
According to CDC, the Delta variant has most recently surged to become the predominant variant, from less than 1% of cases in May to over 80% of cases in July. Important information about the Delta variant:
• The Delta variant is 200% more transmissible compared to previous strains of COVID-19.
• New data shows that people infected with Delta have up to 1000x higher viral loads, meaning they carry more virus in their nose, than with previous strains.
• Virtually all hospitalizations and deaths continue to be among the unvaccinated.
• Though rare, vaccinated individuals who become infected can spread the Delta variant to others. Most “breakthrough infections” are mild, meaning the vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations and death.
FCPH also recommends CDC guidelines for K-12 schools, including universal masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors, regardless of vaccination status and community transmission rates. At this moment, COVID vaccinations are critical as infections are increasing at a faster rate than vaccinations. The fully vaccinated rates in Cass County for twelve to eighteen year olds are approximately 30%, and nineteen to thirty nine year olds are below 50%. Additionally, a significant portion of students are not eligible for vaccination as the vaccine is currently only available for those twelve years and older.
FCPH offers free COVID-19 vaccine at the main location (1240 25th Street South) each Tuesday during walk-in clinics and also by appointment Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. For information on vaccine availability in our community, please see vaccinefinder.org.
Additional information is available here: www.FargoCassPublicHealth.com/covidvaccine.
Dr. Dean L. Bresciani, President