I want to welcome you back to the start of the spring semester, but I wish it were under better circumstances. There has been a significant national increase in COVID cases from the start of semester break till now. This spike is attributable to the Omicron variant and its increased transmissibility. This variant has been hitting the East coast and Great Lakes region hard for a few weeks and is now spreading rapidly across the country. It appears that a spike is beginning to occur in North Dakota, but the magnitude of the increase remains unclear. However, the good news is that Omicron, while more contagious, appears to result in milder illness (e.g., here).
We have been monitoring the situation and participating in system-wide discussion. The local conditions, while concerning, do not indicate that we will need to make significant modifications to our current COVID mitigation strategies. However, we need to remain vigilant and each do our part to reduce the spread. Here are some key points:
- Face Coverings: Masks will continue to be required in all classroom settings and will be strongly recommended in all indoor settings. NDSU’s specific guidance can be found here. Faculty should rigorously adhere to these requirements for the classrooms. For questions about classroom management of this issue please review the Guidance Regarding Classroom Management and Masks at the bottom of this email. This guidance was previously issued by Provost Fitzgerald and Vice Provost Oster-Aaland on August 30, and I want to remind faculty members about it.
- Staying Home: If you are ill, do not come to work or attend class. Please remember to report to NDSU if you are COVID positive. The reporting forms for both employees and students can be found here. If you are a student and are positive, please contact your professors to determine how to stay current with your work.
- Isolation/Quarantine: Consistent with guidance from the CDC and the North Dakota Department of Health, if you are positive for COVID, you should stay home and isolate from other people for at least 5 full days (day 0 is the first day of symptoms or the date of the day of the positive viral test for asymptomatic persons). After 5 days, if you do not have symptoms, you can come out of isolation, but you will need to wear a mask in public for an additional 5 days. Because of the difficulty of continuously wearing a mask with roommates, students who are isolating on campus can choose to remain in the isolation residence for a full ten days. Additional information can be found here and here.
- Vaccinations/Boosters: Vaccinations and boosters are recommended for all eligible recipients. Vaccines and boosters are free and readily available. You can locate a vaccine provider here. Students can get free vaccines and boosters at Student Health Service.
- Testing: We strongly encourage regular testing for all our students and employees. Students can be tested for free at the Student Health Service with an appointment. More information here. Employees can be tested by the Fargo Cass Public Health site located at 3051 25th Street S., Suite K. No appointment is necessary and testing is free. NDSU will explore with public health officials if an additional testing site at NDSU is feasible.
- Student Vaccine Incentive: The student vaccine incentive closed out on January 4, and I am extremely pleased to report that 7,052 students received the $100 vaccine incentive. That’s 60% of our in-person student population. Thank you to all the students who got vaccinated and to all the staff who made this incentive program possible.
With COVID still a significant threat and our recent cold temperatures and snow, I understand it is easy to not feel enthusiastic about the start of school. However, this COVID spike will pass, and the snow will melt. Soon enough, spring will arrive, and with it, the hope of finally moving past this pandemic forever. Until then, let’s work together to make this a great semester.
GUIDANCE REGARDING CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT AND MASKS
NDSU has implemented a mask requirement for all classroom settings whether such classes are credit, non-credit, training sessions, etc. Faculty members who are able to maintain social distance from students may remove their masks during the class for purposes of being more easily heard.
Educational institutions like NDSU have the right to establish appropriate classroom behavior, including the wearing of reasonable protective clothing. Whether its protective goggles in a laboratory or shirt/shoes in regular classes, we have all become accustomed to educational requirements regarding our attire. Masks are new, but they are no different from prior requirements.
Medical exemptions for mask wearing can only come from Disability Services (701-231-8463). Students asking for a medical exemption should be directed to that office.
Faculty should take the following steps:
- Faculty should set clear expectations about the required use of masks in their classes. In the event that the faculty member has not been strictly enforcing the mask requirement to date, the faculty member should indicate that, starting with the next class meeting, the policy will be strictly enforced.
- In the event that one or more students do not wear a mask to a class, the faculty member should remind the student(s) of the mask requirement and indicate that the student(s) must comply.
- It is optional but recommended that the faculty member offer non-complying student(s) a mask (a limited supply is available from Central Stores).
- If a student continues to violate the mask requirement after being directed to comply, the faculty member may ask the student to leave the class. The faculty member is not required to either provide an alternative learning method or provide make-up opportunities for any missed class requirements.
- In the event that a student is asked to leave the class on three or more occasions, the faculty member should contact her/his chair to discuss further action(s). A possible action may be an administrative drop of the class, but this will only be used after a meeting between the student and the chair. This meeting is intended to discuss the situation and gain compliance for mask wearing by the student.
- If the student is disruptive in class beyond non-compliance on mask wearing, the faculty member should file a Concern and Complaint form with the Dean of Student’s Office to determine if a violation of the Code of Student Conduct occurred. The form can be found here.
Dr. Dean Bresciani, President