As the return of UND students approaches, what efforts will be done by the university to safeguard the community from a spike in coronavirus cases?
With a rise in national coronavirus cases -- and specifically in younger people -- it’s a necessary question and one that apparently is being addressed by the university.
During a meeting with the Herald’s editorial board, UND leaders said extensive work is being done to safeguard students, staff and Greater Grand Forks.
Among the efforts:
Widespread testing: UND President Andrew Armacost said the hope is to “test all people on campus when they return and then do periodic testing throughout the fall semester.” The efforts could include a potential statewide test that’s in the works through the North Dakota University System, as well as on-campus testing when students come back.
Risk categorization: This involves determining who, exactly, poses a higher risk and administering greater mitigation measures within those groups.
Vice President for Finance and Operations Jed Shivers and interim Provost Debbie Storrs, who also participated in the meeting with the Herald, said campus staff have determined the high-risk groups include athletes, aviation students, students participating in the performing arts and those in health-related fields.
Masks and distancing: UND this year will stress a strategy that focuses on social distancing, face covers, hand-washing and personal hygiene. Vice President of Marketing and Communication Meloney Linder, who also participated in the meeting with the Herald, said the university will require students and staff to wear masks. It likely will be a mandate for the entire school year, or until a vaccine is developed or the risk subsides.
Improved testing capability: The university has opted to purchase a testing machine that should ease the process not only for coronavirus testing but also for other illness testing in the future. The machine, which can render results within four hours, costs $135,000 and will be paid for as a university operating expense.
“We felt that it is of such importance that we didn’t want to make it dependent on other funding,” Shivers said.
Staff concerns: When the Herald told the UND leaders that the newspaper had received a complaint about allegedly insufficient mitigation efforts on campus, Armacost said he personally would look into it.
“This is the first I have heard that concern,” he said. “I will certainly work (with the specific department) and if there are concerns, we will address those.”
For the sake of the community economy and simply for a return to normalcy, it’s important classes resume this fall. However, the return of students could be perilous for Greater Grand Forks, since the nation’s rise in coronavirus cases is being linked to a lax attitude among young people. In an interview on CBS News, Dr. Charles Lockwood, a vice president at the medical school at the University of South Florida, discussed what he called “incredible noncompliance … particularly among young adults and teenagers.”
UND is on the right track with its very specific efforts. What’s left, then, is for students to understand the risk they present when they return and that they take seriously all efforts to avoid a community outbreak.