In preparation for its spring semester, which begins Monday, Northern Arizona University hosted a virtual town hall to discuss how omicron would affect its plans. As with the Flagstaff K-12 schools, the university has said it will continue its in-person learning, with minimal changes to its mitigation plan.
âLast fall we managed to navigate the delta wave that emerged over the summer. We are prepared, optimistic and ready to continue this great work in the spring, âsaid Karen Pugliesi, Acting Vice President and Vice President of Academic Affairs.
Its previous town halls had been held in August, with a focus on how the delta variant might affect the fall semester. As with these, TGen North Director David Engelthaler and Pathogen and Microbiome Institute Executive Director Paul Keim began the meeting on Thursday by outlining the current understanding of the omicron variant as well as local COVID metrics.
According to the presentation, Arizona is likely still in the early stages of its omicron push. Based on data from the East Coast, which is a bit later in its cycle, cases were expected to continue to rise, at least for the near future.
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The NAU’s response to the pandemic, as described in City Hall, was broadly similar to its approach to the fall semester.
The university was encouraging students and employees to re-upload their proof of vaccination after receiving a reminder, although it was not required. About 70% of employees had checked their immunizations at the time of the occurrence.
Masks will be mandatory in the common areas of all campus buildings and strongly encouraged during events. The university will provide branded fabric masks with filters to its students and staff in addition to having disposable options, including KN95, across campus.
While KN95 masks were the most effective at preventing the spread of disease, Engelthaler said light blue procedural masks (about half as effective) and homemade or cloth masks still offered some level of protection.
âThis is something we can all do as we try to function in groups and in classrooms as this omicron wave rolls over us,â he said. âChances are, if you wear a mask you will still be exposed, but if you don’t wear a mask you will absolutely be exposed. “
Keim encouraged people to stay home when they are showing symptoms, regardless of the cause.
âIf you have symptoms, stay home; it doesn’t matter if you have COVID, the flu or the common cold, you don’t want to give that to your coworkers, âhe said.
The university is also asking students, faculty and staff to test for COVID before returning to campus, even if they are not showing symptoms. If testing is limited to where it is currently, they are welcome to test at the NAU. On campus, the Fieldhouse offers PCR testing and the Campus Health Center offers rapid antigen testing.
Even though these CDC guidelines don’t specify the need to test negative before leaving quarantine, Keim has recommended them whenever possible.
The NAU will continue its voluntary program of clustered attenuation testing during the spring semester, calling between 2,500 and 3,000 students, faculty and staff each week.
âGetting tested proactively and frequently is one of the best mitigation measures we have and can really allow all of us to enjoy the wealth of being on campus in person with a lot less stress,â he said. said Acting Vice President Margot Saltonstall.
Anyone who tests positive is encouraged to follow CDC quarantine guidelines. NAU will provide a âdedicated residence spaceâ and teams of care managers to support students with positive test results.
âWe also recognize that there will be positive cases, and we know that our professors are ready to support students so that they can continue to progress in their academic programs, even if they cannot attend class. We thank you for everything you have done this past semester to make this possible and know that you will be ready to do it next spring, âsaid Pugliesi.
Employees who test positive will also need to follow CDC guidelines and “plan an appropriate way to promote student learning.” An announcement on the NAU’s new workforce plans earlier today included flexible working options that can be used in these situations.
When asked if students who did not feel safe back on campus had the option of using NAUFlex for distance learning, Pugliesi said it was not planned at the time. to pivot fully towards the platform, but that they were monitoring the situation and were ready to adjust if needed.
She encouraged the students to discuss options for different formats with their academic advisor.
âOur professors are well aware of how to use the technologies we have in place to adapt, which includes adaptation to support students who cannot come to class and who need support to continue their academic progress as well. . such as situations where a faculty member may not be able to participate in the class themselves, âshe said. “… We want, at this stage, to maintain [an in-person] learning experience for our students using all the tools at our disposal to adapt to the situation. We recognize that individuals are different and have their different wants and needs, and we are here to be as flexible as possible as part of our mission to support this.
NAU is also planning to have a spring break this year as well as an in-person start to spring. More details would be communicated to students as they became known.
When asked about the trigger point for the shift to e-learning, vice president and chief human resources officer Josh Mackey said these decisions would be based on advice from scientific and health experts rather than specific numbers. .
âThere is no fixed set point that is used well in terms of decision making or change of direction. As you have heard that virus matters and positivity is really evolving into what it means and how we will use it, so we will definitely use it, we don’t have a specific starting point on how we will make them changes. But as we’ve always said, keep monitoring these things, keep consulting with experts, and if necessary, we’re ready to pivot. We have done all of this already and we can do it again if conditions require, âhe said.
Details of the NAU’s current COVID response can be found at nau.edu/legacy/jacks-are-back/.