The following is a transcript of the UND Faculty & Staff Open Forum that was held via Zoom on Friday, Aug. 28.
President Andy Armacost: I’m watching the numbers climb on the number of participants, and I think now is a good time to get started.
For those whom I haven’t met, I’m Andy Armacost, the president of UND. And I just wanted to thank you for tuning in. We felt it was important at the end of this first week of the fall semester to touch base with you, to open it up for your questions about what’s going on on campus. And in particular, a lot of questions regarding the COVID pandemic and the university’s response.
Just know that our top priority is the health and safety of all members of our campus. We’re interested, of course, in delivering all of our academic programs and our extracurricular activities in a way that reduces the risk to the members of our campus. So, all of our actions over the summer with the Pandemic Working Group — who began their work in mid-March — have been really focused on getting us to this point.
We appreciate the hard work of all the faculty and staff members who have gotten us here. The preparation that you’ve done in whatever your role is on campus, whether you’re preparing your courses as a faculty member or supporting the campus in a variety of ways as staff members, your work has been instrumental in getting us to this point.
So, thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I know (you’ve won) the appreciation of everybody who’s here on this Zoom call.
With that — with me offering thanks — I think there’s no better person to turn the conversation over to than our Provost, Debbie Storrs. So Debbie, over to you.
Debbie Storrs, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs: Thanks, Andy. I just wanted to reiterate my appreciation for all the work that staff and faculty have done to adjust to our new reality. I know this is Friday; we’ve just finished our first week of putting all that planning into practice. And I know there’s been tweaks that you’ve had to make, and pivots, both on the staff and faculty front.
I will let you know that I’ve gotten lots of emails from parents and students applauding the work, the accommodations that you’re making; (from) a few frustrated students and faculty, and we’ve helped them understand why the situation is the way it is, and ask for their patience as we figure out how we work with the technology.
And I continue to help people understand what a huge lift is on faculty’s part to accommodate the number of students who are in quarantine and isolation.
So, I wanted to thank you.
I also want to just to take a couple of seconds and thank our Senate leadership, our students, staff and faculty reps. They have worked alongside us all summer to make sure that we understand their perspective. They helped inform decisions. We’re going to continue to work with them and the faculty and staff.
So, I look forward to the ongoing dialogue and to answering any questions that you have today. I’ll go ahead and turn it over to Vice President Shivers, who will moderate today’s session.
Jed Shivers, vice president for finance and operations: Hi, I’m Jed Shivers. I’m the COVID lead person for the university, and I have a bunch of questions that we’d like to start off with that have been submitted from a variety of sources — from the University Senate, from the Staff Senate, from folks all over the university.
We’re going to do those for a little while. And then hopefully, we’ll open it up to questions. I believe the idea would be to use the Q&A portion of this Zoom conference. Use the Q&A portion if you have a question that you would like to look at, and we have people standing by who will be helping us with that and bringing those questions up, and then I’ll be handing them out as we move along through the hour.
Then probably toward the end of the hour, we’ll stop and ask for last thoughts from President Armacost.
I do want to remind you again that we do have a very large Student Forum also, coming up on the first of September. So, just know that we’re reaching out to students as well, as we work our way through this challenging time.
Thematically, I think one of the things that has appeared in many questions, and I get this in emails from parents and students, is: what is the number? Is there a number that we look at — a number of cases, a number of something — that will definitively say, we are either in the clear and can go back to the new normal or, golly, things are getting rough, and we better think about going remote?
I’m going to turn that question over to President Armacost and see what his thoughts are on that.
President Armacost: This is a common question, Jed, so thanks for bringing this up.
As we’ve published in the Healthy Hawks guide, and as we’ve said a bunch of times, there is no magic number. I wish I could say, “More than 500 cases, and we can give you an answer.” I can’t say that.
This morning, I checked the numbers, and I think we’re just over 250 active cases. That will both increase and decrease over the course of the weekend as cases are identified, and people come off of quarantine or off of isolation.
I wish I could pick a number; the number on quarantine is big as well. It’s over 600 people between isolation and quarantine, positive cases and close contacts. It’s over 600, and those are large numbers.
But what we need to do is compare those to the capacity that we have to handle those cases. And that capacity is driven by number of hotel rooms that we have available. And that number was, I think by this weekend, going to creep up to about 385; but that varies. We can add more and more capacity through hotel contracts if we need to.
And there’s the people, all the people who are responding to this. We have to make sure that we have the number of people to do contact tracing, to provide support to the students or faculty members or staff members who are affected.
So it’s really our ability to handle the number of cases more than anything. And that’s driven by both the number of cases and the resources that we have available.
Then finally, external to the campus, we’ll be paying close attention to the trends that are happening in the community, and the ability for our health care partners out in the community, primarily Altru, to be able to handle the number of cases.
So there’s no easy answer. But know that the whole group you see before you spent a lot of time talking to each other, monitoring the situation and making the best decisions that we can, given the information that we have.
Jed Shivers: Thank you, President Armacost. I just want to add — and people are probably sick of hearing me say this, but — we have a triangular system. We’ve got testing, we’ve got contact tracing, we’ve got isolation and quarantining people. Those are the three parts of the triangle.
And the goal is to discover as many people who have the virus, get them isolated and then find their close contacts through contact tracing, get them quarantined.
And the whole idea is if we sequester them for a very limited period of time, either at home or in a hotel, then they’re not out in the community and as likely to create a expansive community spread.
That’s really what we’re looking to try and prevent — we, in conjunction with Grand Forks. That’s the goal here, and at the moment, that seems to be holding.
So I want to just turn quickly to Vice President for Health Affairs and Dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences Dr. Wynne and get his comments on this.
What are your thoughts in terms of the system that we have in place and our efforts to prevent explosive community spread?
Joshua Wynne, Vice President for Health Affairs and Dean of the School of Medicine & Health Sciences: Thank you. So, if we look at North Dakota as a whole, we know that it’s roughly like one person out of 100 — a little more than than that — who’s been exposed. But what we’re really concerned about is when there is a lot of spread, obviously on campus and into the community.
The best way of responding is to stay ahead of the curve. What that means is what we are doing, which is aggressively testing.
Then, once people are identified, we need to isolate and contact trace. It’s clear from the experience around the world that where that has been done aggressively, it is possible to control the virus. It doesn’t go away, but you can control it.
That’s why those components are critical: test, isolate, and contact trace, and then quarantine as appropriate.
So, I just commend the people who’ve been tested and encourage others to get tested, even if you’re asymptomatic. Roughly 40 percent or four out of 10 people who have COVID have no symptoms. So you cannot rely on the absence of symptoms, or no temperature or whatever. Those are not reliable excluders of disease.
The things we are doing is the best approach. And then obviously, each of us needs to wear a mask as appropriate, physically distance, wash hands frequently and so forth. If we do that — which we are, in large measure — we can keep this under control.
We let our guard down, and at unpredictable times, it will explode.
Jed Shivers: Thanks Dr. Wynne. Now, I want to turn to another theme that’s come up: the issue of cost.
I think people have an understanding that doing all this has cost quite a bit of money. It has. One of the questions — which is a sophisticated question — is: had we stayed online and not gone to on-campus instruction and living and research and service, would we have saved money?
The answer is a little bit complicated in the sense that one of the successful aspects of this is that thanks to our congressional delegation, our governor and our Legislature, the vast majority of dollars that we’ve spent so far really have been funded via the CARES Act mechanism from the federal government.
So, I reckon when all is said and done that between the CRF money that we’re getting — that’s the CARES Act — and the state contract that we have for contact tracing, that we’ll probably spend about $20 million when all is said and done by Dec. 30. It’s a rough estimate, but I think not unreasonable, given the the dollars that we’ve received from those sources.
And actually, that is all money that is, in essence, extramurally funded and not being funded by campus operations.
Now let me just turn to Chief Plummer just for a minute. He can explain that we’re also looking to FEMA, the (federal) emergency management system, to also defray some of our costs — notably, hotel, quarantining and isolation.
Eric Plummer, Associate Vice President for Public Safety and Chief of Police: So a lot of the testing that’s going on right now is being paid for by the state, as are the contact tracing efforts that are going on.
When you look at the personal protective equipment, the cleaning and disinfectant that is being used across campus, those are going to be actually submitted to FEMA for reimbursement through the Stafford Act since this is a federally declared disaster. This pays for 75 percent of the cost, and the remaining 25 percent is covered through the CARES Act dollars, which were allocated to UND.
In the past, the Stafford Act can go up to 90 percent, depending on the presidential authorization, but typically it’s capped at 75 percent. So right now, the costs that are being submitted are being paid for directly by either FEMA or those CARES Act dollars.
Jed Shivers: Thanks, Chief Plummer. So another question that’s popped up looking to the future is, if a vaccine is widely available by spring, will UND require students to be vaccinated before coming back for a spring semester?
Certainly a vaccine is something that we’re all hoping for and that it will be widely available. So I’m going to turn to President Armacost, and my colleague, Vice President Dr. Cara Halgren, and ask for their responses to this question.
President Armacost: If a vaccine is widely available, I would strongly encourage everybody to get it. The challenge is whether it’s legally allowed for us to impose such a requirement. I know that the Attorney General’s office for the state of North Dakota is looking at this, about the degree to which we can issue such a mandate.
But right now, I think that as far as we can go is issuing a strong encouragement for people to do so.
Having a vaccine would be beneficial to us returning to something more akin to a normal life on campus. Cara, over to you.
Cara Halgren, Vice President for Student Affairs & Diversity and Dean of Students: Thank you, President Armacost. I would anticipate that if there was a vaccine available, that we would talk about this in the same way that we talk about other required immunizations for students who are on campus.
In those cases, the North Dakota University System has adopted a stand that students have to come with immunizations for certain things like measles, mumps, rubella, and I would anticipate that there would be conversation about whether we would add this to that list.
So that again, to address President Armacost’s question about whether we could require it, that would be a path forward for us to be able to do that.
Jed Shivers: Cara, a similar thematic question is: why weren’t all students required to get tested?
Cara Halgren: You know, it’s interesting. I’m watching some of the questions in the chat, and I think some of the questions about how many students are actually getting tested are really a matter of perspective. We decided — again, going back to what President Armacost talked about — that there was a question about whether we could legally require students to be tested. Additionally, we also talked about the power of incentivizing testing for students.
And so I just want to go back to some of the testing event numbers, and we track all of the numbers for different events that take place.
The most recent event was held actually yesterday. There were 1,353 tests that were actually given. Out of that number, 1,049 of those tests were given to students.
That, to me, shows that — again — we have students who are interested and responsible about getting testing. We’re looking at seeing if we can actually even get more tests available to us at UND in the future so that again, we can continue to encourage students to do that.
If you’ve been watching the incentives, you’ll know that we offered opportunities for students to win $500 gift cards to the bookstore for being tested; and apparently, that went really well with our students.
So again, I think we’ve had a strong student turnout so far. But we’re always looking to encourage more.
Jed Shivers: Thank you, I want to go into — you know, we really had a lot of successes. We’ve done things to physically alter the campus; we’re still working on building infrastructure.
But there’s one area that we really are having trouble with, and that’s our bookstore. And some of the questions address the bookstore issue.
So: Bookstore is having major challenges as students don’t have the books they need for the start of the semester, even when they were pre ordered. How our faculty being made aware of the situation, what’s the university doing to remedy this issue, and how our faculty is supposed to be handling the issue with in their class?
I’m going to just give some brief background in this, but I think we’re all quite dissatisfied with this outcome.
As I’m sure you know, our bookstore is run on a contract with Follett. It turns out that this is a nationwide phenomenon. Follett is having a great deal of trouble having people work for them in bookstores, and they have had an enormous amount of difficulty in recruiting people and particularly recruiting people here.
In addition, they’ve had some significant key staff turnovers here. So as a result, they were left bereft of staff who are highly qualified. We’ve had a manager here; that manager’s been working with temporary personnel. It’s been quite unsatisfactory.
And President Armacost basically stepped into this and contacted the president of Follett. Within the next day or two, I and the folks from finance were meeting with all the executives of Follett Higher Education and Operations, they have pledged to rectify this situation. They say they own it; well, we own it, too. But they say they own it.
And so they are working diligently. They have a new regional manager who’s here in person helping. They’re working hard to recruit people. They’re working with us to automate book adoption.
And just to give you an idea of where we are — here’s just a bit of a notice which I’m reading: “the majority of course materials are available in the UND bookstore. If you have already adopted your course materials, thank you. The bookstore team is busy fulfilling 400 student online orders per day, with the expectation that this will increase to 600.
“Infrequently, an adoption submitted in a timely manner may get misplaced. If this happens and your book is not available at the bookstore, please consider the staffing constraints and email at email@example.com. That’s 1120txt@follett to let them know of the situation.” And let me just quickly turn it over to Debbie.
Debbie Storrs: Thanks, Jed. What you read was part of the email correspondence we sent out last Thursday when we were made aware of some of the bookstore issues.
I want to acknowledge it’s another layer of complexity that faculty are having to deal with. I mean, books are pretty central to the learning process. And so, in that email I told faculty, here are the challenges, I asked for some patience and to also encourage your students to be patient because of the challenges of the bookstore.
But I also want to recognize this means that if you don’t have a book, or they didn’t order your book or the books not available for your students to purchase, that means that you’re going to have to adjust your teaching, because you’re not going to be reading the material. I just wanted to acknowledge that; and we’re trying to move quickly with Follett to get a solution.
So that’s all I have to offer, Jed. But it is a recognition; the deans are aware of it. We are concerned. It seems to be a smaller number of courses; nonetheless, it’s still a problem for those courses that don’t have a book.
Jed Shivers: Correct. So we’re going to be reporting on this consistently. Today, we talked about it and we’ll continue to talk about it in our Pandemic meetings until this gets under control. And not just talk about it, obviously, but exert efforts to fix it.
As you know, we took questions from faculty, we took questions from staff, and I’ve got a couple of questions for our Associate Vice President Peggy Varberg. One question is: when we aren’t feeling well and stay at home because we don’t know if it’s just a cold or could be the sign of a virus, do we use sick leave? Peggy, do you want to comment on that question?
Peggy Varberg, Associate Vice President, Human Resources & Payroll Services: Yes. So, you know, the basic line is if you’re not feeling well, you should stay home. If you can work remotely from home, that’s great. If you feel that you may have some symptoms that could be COVID-related, but, you know — as we move into flu season and cold season — maybe they’re not, you’re not really sure: stay at home and if you can, work remotely.
If you can’t, then yes, use sick leave.
If you really feel like you have symptoms related to COVID, we encourage you to get tested.
Once folks are tested, if they’re positive or if you’re contacted by the Department of Health contact tracers and asked to quarantine/isolate, then we do have emergency paid sick leave that’s available that doesn’t come out of your sick leave bank.
So each employee, regardless of whether they’re staff, faculty or student employee, part-time, full-time, it doesn’t matter: if you’re an employee of the university, you are eligible for this employee paid sick leave under the COVID quarantine isolation.
So, if you’re positive or if you’ve been told you need to stay home because you are a close contact, those kinds of things, then please make sure that you’re reporting that according to our blog, which has a link into our Veoci system.
We are made aware every time a person reports that, and the appropriate people then will reach out to you to talk to you about what you need, if you’re able to work, if you’re not, and what kind of leave.
So, for full-time employees at the University, you have up to 80 hours of the emergency paid sick leave. For part-time, it’s prorated according to your average hours.
But I strongly encourage you to stay home if you’re not feeling well.
Jed Shivers: Thanks, Peggy. There’s a couple more questions that we might come back to. But let’s now turn our attention to some of the questions that people are asking on the fly, because we really want to hear from you. We want this to be as interactive a process as our Zoom will allow us to be.
I’m going to start to get into some of the questions that you are currently asking. This is for Chief Plummer: could you please reiterate that if you’re not wearing a mask, people/students cannot ask you why you’re not wearing a mask? Interesting question.
Eric Plummer: This really gets to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accommodations and the reasons people may not be able to wear a mask.
We actually encourage people to model good behavior. We want you to wear a mask as appropriate. If somebody is not wearing a mask, you can just say, “You know, masks are required in this area,” but really don’t get into, “why are you not wearing a mask?”
Really, there may be reasons why that person cannot wear a mask, whether it be a medical or other type reason that they really don’t need to get into with you.
Jed Shivers: A quick question for President Armacost: What efforts are being taken by UND leadership to ensure Grand Forks city leaders will practice and enforce the same healthy behaviors encouraged by UND?
President Armacost: “Ensure” is the operative word there. All I can say is, I talk to the mayor and City Council members frequently about what we’re doing on campus, and how I believe it’s the appropriate thing for the city to take the same steps we are; it would help us out with our students who are living off campus. And we have expectations on campus that we would love to see off campus as well.
Unfortunately, I don’t make the decisions for the city. So I would encourage you, if you think that’s a move the city should make, to make sure you reach out to your council member and make it known. I think they’re talking about it on Monday, about actions they should take within within the city confines.
So I’m doing my part to share my beliefs about what we should do. That’s the extent of what I can do to ensure them adopting those standards.
Jed Shivers: Thank you, President Armacost. Another question for Chief Plummer: are there plans to implement a campus curfew, like other universities have done to limit the amount of gatherings late in the evening?
Eric Plummer: Right now, that has not been discussed. As mentioned earlier, our system is handling the number of cases that we have through not only the testing that we’re doing, but also the contact tracing efforts as well as quarantine and isolation.
If we do see or get a report of large gatherings, or a large number of gatherings across campus, that’s something that I will bring to the Executive Council for their discussion. And if we choose to implement something like that, we will push out information. But we do not have that issue at this time.
Jed Shivers: Thank you, Chief Plummer. This is a question for me. And I’ll read the question and then I’m going to try and answer it as best as I can.
It says, “Can you better explain the deficit of $1 million projected even though we have a record number of new student registrations? Are you including the current remodelings in that current budget?”
Let me answer the question in the following way. We felt that it was likely that we might see a decrease in registration, but more importantly, in paid student credit hours relative to the prior year. And so we worked with all the colleges and all of the primary units to really determine how many paid student credit hours they would generate.
Enrollments are important, but (they are) a proxy. The real issue is paid student credit hours.
And as a result of that, we basically — working with all of those units — developed a budget that we felt we could handle in terms of revenue and expense. We got wonderful cooperation from all of the academic units, all the primary units, units like Dr. Halgren’s area, my area, etc., in order to reduce expenses accordingly.
At the moment, we are doing a little bit better in terms of registration. We’re waiting to see. You know, it all looks good right now, but the real issue is the fourth-week data. So I want to point that out; that’s really a key data point.
So we will be seeing whether that holds, and what areas are affected of the university and what areas are not.
I predict that will have differential effects in certain areas. So for example, one possibility might be that we see people opting out of student housing and board, because they’ve decided they’re going to learn remotely. And then there may be differential effects by college, etc.
So we’re really going to be working through that, and the time where we’ll be examining that will be in the late September/early October timeframe, because we’ll actually have our first quarter financial results in.
So that is, hopefully, a response to the question.
A question for President Armacost: “I talked to an extremely careful student last week who was infected by her roommates? Shouldn’t we be mandating that students be tested?”
President Armacost: Again, this gets back to what’s permissible in terms of requiring a medical procedure. We’re doing our best to incentivize and to encourage people, whether it’s the $500 cash, or I know the students are putting together snapchats and TikToks and other ways to really promote testing.
We know that testing is effective. The other measures that Dr. Wynne talked about — (identifying the infected person), isolating that infected person and then quarantining all the close contacts — is a proven public health measure that will help us minimize the risk.
So those are the steps we’re taking. The Attorney General of the state or the Assistant Attorney General, has previously indicated what limits exist for us to mandate testing. Cara, you might have another thing to add to that as well.
Cara Halgren: Again, I would concur with what you’ve said. And my experience — again, I’m watching the chat information here the questions, and I know there’s a lot of concern about students not doing the right thing.
I would also contend in the experiences that we’ve had this week, students are really excited to be here. We’ve had a lot of different meetings with specifically group chapters this last week. There’s a recognition that doing this — including even being quarantined or isolated for a given period of time — is helpful to being able to stay here.
And so again, I think it’s continuing to focus on ways that we can incentivize helping people isolate and quarantine, do it safely. And again, safer behaviors on campus for all of us.
Jed Shivers: So Cara, great segue into another question: how are hotel rooms prioritized? And how long does it take to place students there?
Cara Halgren: One of the things that we need to remember when we’re talking about isolation and quarantine is that there’s a given period of time for both. And so as people are cycling in, people are also cycling out of the hotels.
We do prioritize hotels for students. We prioritize based on whether a student lives on campus, in the residence halls; off campus, in a Greek chapter house; or off campus, in an apartment community. Again, we want students to be able to isolate and quarantine safely, and we’re interested in working with any student who can’t do that.
The timeline that it actually takes to get someone into a hotel is actually very quick and can happen within a couple of hours. The staff members, my colleagues in the Office of Student Rights & Responsibilities work with colleagues in Chief Plummer’s office to make that happen for students. But again, it happens very quickly.
Jed Shivers: Chief Plummer, I assume this question relates to hotels: after isolation, will places be disinfected? Will people be tested again to make sure the person is negative before returning to class?
Eric Plummer: Yeah, so working with the hotel partners where we do have people quarantining and isolating, we have provided them disinfecting equipment. They will disinfect it in accordance with CDC guidelines and standards.
With respect to people being tested to basically prove that they do not have it, the North Dakota Department of Health has actually assumed a 90-day immunity after you’re positive. You sit your 10 days in isolation. When you come out of that isolation, in consultation with the caseworker, they are assuming a 90-day immunity; and they do not suggest that you be retested until after that 90 days.
Jed Shivers: Thanks, Chief Plummer. Quick question – really into the intricacies of this whole challenging issue – are there options for students to use on campus printing when they’re isolated and can’t access a printer? Madhavi, can you comment?
Madhavi Marasinghe, Chief Information Officer: Yes, they can print, but we need to figure out how to get the printed copies back to the students. I will definitely take a look at it to see what options we have.
Jed Shivers: Great question – something to focus on in terms of logistics. Question for Provost Storrs: How is University leadership handling the concept of “time spent on courses” being only 10 percent of faculty time for a three-credit course? Hybrid teaching is proven to be extremely time-consuming, faculty constantly being asked to be flexible, change, adjust, etc.
Debbie Storrs: Thanks, Jed. It’s a great question. And we do acknowledge the amount of time faculty are pivoting constantly with the number of students who need to be accommodated or who may change.
One of the things all the deans did and that we’ve communicated to the faculty is they’ve posted their policy on how they will manage evaluations, both for last year and this time period, given the time that’s been allocated in terms of your adjustments. We want to hold faculty harmless in terms of their evaluations; we know the challenges.
Beyond that, there have been no discussions about the percentages, and we can certainly have those discussions with your deans.
Jed Shivers: Finally got a question for Associate Vice President Mike Pieper. How are we protecting students in residence halls where there are major plumbing problems? So I guess the first question is, are there major plumbing problems in residence halls?
Mike Pieper, Associate Vice President of Facilities: I’m currently not aware of any major plumbing problems. We do receive work order requests on a daily basis, and we’ll respond to those, but I’m not aware of any major issues.
The residence halls are being managed and cleaned according to CDC guidelines. Just a different type of building, but still following the same guidelines.
Jed Shivers: Thanks, Mike. I think this question has been asked and answered. Do we know the number of people in quarantine who are asymptomatic? And I guess the question really is specific to our population. Do we have any insights into that even without having real statistical knowledge here?
Cara Halgren: Well, what I can tell you in terms of student experiences is that we have seen students who have been asymptomatic, who have gone into quarantine only to have to isolate later on because the symptoms have been there.
So again, back to Dr. Wynne’s earlier comment about asymptomatic folks and not showing symptoms, that doesn’t mean that we’re not seeing folks who ultimately are positive.
Jed Shivers: Chief Plummer, I think you wanted to add?
Eric Plummer: Yeah, I think one other thing to point out is, as Cara mentioned, we’ve had a number of people who go into quarantine because they’re close contact, then turn to a positive. So when you see that number, that high number of people that may be isolating and quarantining, there may be multiple counts of the same individual.
We realize that, and we’re working today and tomorrow to actually take the multiples out by changing some of the dates. So if somebody did go into quarantine for 14 days, and three days later they turned to an isolation or a positive case, what we’re going to do is reset the clock on the quarantine to the date they turned positive and moved into an isolation category.
So you’ll actually see some fluctuation over the next 24 to 36 hours in that overall number.
Joshua Wynne: Jed, not to get too wonky with terminology, but what the folks have been chatting about is the difference between asymptomatic and what we call pre-symptomatic. That is someone who gets tested when they don’t have symptoms and then subsequently develop symptoms.
The best available data suggests that overall it’s probably somewhere around 45 percent of people who are tested, who are either asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic, the number of truly asymptomatic people – they never develop symptoms – is somewhere around 30 percent, or a third, worldwide. That’s why I round out those differences when I quoted the 40 percent number before, as being asymptomatic. So I think that that’s a good rule of thumb.
But what has been described absolutely can occur. That is, someone gets tested, they have no symptoms and the test may well be positive, and then they develop symptoms subsequently.
Jed Shivers: Thanks, Josh. So, quick question for Chief Plummer: If a class member who attends in-person test positive, does everyone in the session needs to be isolated or quarantined?
Eric Plummer: No. So what they’ll do is they’ll work with a contact tracer. But the way that we actually set up the classroom environment, we’ve done it to where people have that six feet of physical distancing between them.
Remember, a lot of the contact tracing efforts to identify somebody as a close contact is going to be if you are in the same space with that person, within six feet, for more than 15 minutes.
I would encourage people to download the CARE 19 Alert app, because it actually lets you use your phone to identify other Bluetooth devices that are within the area, and it basically starts that clock for you. Then if you are in that space for more than 15 minutes with that other Bluetooth key, it will log it. And if you do turn positive, it will actually push that information to you, as well as North Dakota Department of Health so that you can identify those close contacts in a more efficient and effective manner.
But just because you are in the same classroom does not mean that you are going to be identified as a closed content.
Jed Shivers: Thanks, Chief. A quick question for Mike Pieper. Will hand sanitation stations be installed outside classrooms? Mike, give us an update on what’s really happening in the academic buildings with classrooms.
Mike Pieper: Sure. The classrooms have been outfitted with large sanitation wipe buckets. If they’re not there, please let us know, and we’ll get some deployed.
We’re managing those, looking at them, seeing what the cycle time is on them. There are some areas where we may need to deploy more. We are refilling daily when we do our service runs. Like the sanitation stations, we’ve deployed around 130. We’ve deployed some more this week, based on the feedback that we’re getting.
So please still provide that feedback.
Some of the areas mentioned like copy rooms or office suites, we’re asking that those people reach out to their departments. The Department of Safety at UND has the smaller, more personal-sized stuff that they can deploy out to the departments. We’re concentrating the larger stations and buckets in those high-density areas.
But we will continue to deploy them so that you know our stock is deployed. We’ve held back a few just knowing that we probably missed some spots, and we’ll have to get them out.
The other thing just from a classroom perspective, we did receive $6 million in capital funding to address some of our mechanical systems. We are under contract on that. We’ve started to order the equipment.
That process will go rather quickly, since the projects will need to be completed and invoiced before the end of this calendar year. So as that project materializes a little bit, I would say by the end of next week, we’ll have a good sense of where we stand and how those investments are going to be made.
Jed Shivers: Thanks, Mike. The next question I’m going to direct to Dr. Wynne. And I’m going to slightly rephrase this question. This is about new CDC guidelines. So the second part of the question which I’ll ask first is, is the CDC saying to people, that people without any symptoms no longer needs to be tested? And is that something that UND, and I would say, by extension, the state, is going to go along with at this time?
Joshua Wynne: One of the important things that the CDC consistently includes in its guidelines is that it’s important that these be evaluated by the state health department and the local public health units. Therefore, UND consistently stays in concert with state guidelines that may or may not mirror the CDC guidelines.
So the state guidelines and the system guidelines that we’ve done through the task force — or agreements not guidelines — and UND’s guidelines, as I’ve indicated, still continue to emphasize the importance of routine testing.
So the CDC guidelines, or advice, if you will, have changed, but the state has not changed its recommendations. And UND agrees with the state guidelines on this promulgated by the Department of Health because the best way of controlling this virus is through the three steps I mentioned.
Now, I will say that the CDC revamping of some of the recommendations might make great sense in states or locales that are really limited as far as the availability of testing. We know the importance of testing in long-term care and other congregate living environments, and for health care workers. If a state is not able to take carry out that necessary testing, then absolutely I would forego other types of testing.
But fortunately, in North Dakota, we don’t need to do that. So our best way of controlling this epidemic is by aggressive testing.
Jed Shivers: Thanks, Josh. This next question is not an easy one. But this is part of the transactional nature of this Zoom meeting, and I do want to try to address it. And I’m going to address it first, and then I’ll turn it over to President Armacost.
By all reputable metrics, Grand Forks county has a dangerously high number of cases. The recent increase in cases coincided with the beginning of the semester, how is this not considered an outbreak?
And how can UND leadership suggest that the numbers are under control?
So it’s a great question. And I think this is a time that we’ve actually been preparing for as a university.
So let me just sort of quickly outline the preparation. We have been making – in conjunction with Dr. Wynne, who’s played a key role in all of this, and his position as not only Vice President and dean, but also as Chief Strategy Officer – the argument that in North Dakota, which is the 47th least densely populated state in the United States, that the place where you’re going to aggregate population is going to be at colleges and their college communities. That is the argument that we’ve been making.
That’s what we’ve been saying. And it’s not an argument; the state has been very receptive to that perspective.
So the whole point of what we’ve been doing to gear up to this time has been to concentrate the testing firepower of the state on our campus.
Chief Plummer, can you tell me just roughly how many total tests we’ve done, including yesterday and the four testing days we had last week?
Eric Plummer: Yesterday, we did 1,400 tests on campus, and then roughly 3,500 the week prior, leading up to students coming onto campus.
Jed Shivers: Thank you. So as you can see, we’re getting up close to about 5,000 tests. Now, those are not all necessarily individual people, but I would say the vast majority of them are, and that’s on a total campus population of about – let’s call it 13,300, including students, faculty and staff.
So the whole point of what we’ve been gearing up to since we wanted to remain open – because we understand the importance to the state and its citizens and our students to have an open University at this time – is to have a system where we really concentrate the state’s firepower in terms of testing, find those infected people, contact trace them, isolate them in quarantine.
And what you’re really seeing is that system working.
Now, is it going to be 100 percent certain that we’ll be able to prevent a rapid community spread? No. I don’t think anyone would ever claim that. But those are the efforts that we’re making.
And so far, I would say at this point, honestly, we are succeeding. We’ll see how this goes along. President Armacost, do you want to add anything?
President Armacost: Yeah, thanks, Jed. Just a couple things. The first is the term “under control.” The tough part of a pandemic is monitoring the systems to determine whether you’re under control. The measure I talked about before was comparing cases to the capacity we have to handle those cases. And we’ll be paying very close attention to the results of yesterday’s tests of which the vast majority were students.
I know that was a concern about number of students coming, and we’ll pay very close attention to the positivity rates and how that relates to the capacity that we have to house people in quarantine and isolation.
There was another statement in a similar post about insisting that we continue our on-campus presence. Provost Storrs and I sent a note out to all faculty members, I think it was on Wednesday, that talked about the empowerment we’ve given to faculty members.
You, as a faculty member, have the power to make a decision about whether you’re going to continue to operate in the manner that you are or to make modifications to your course.
Many of you will say, “I’ll stay on campus,” then you might say, “I would like to convert to online.” I am not controlling that decision. Provost Storrs is not controlling that decision. We want to make sure our students get the best experience they can. But at the same time, we want to make sure that you are empowered to make that decision.
So those are just a couple points to follow up Jed’s great points.
One final thing I wanted to mention is, over the summer, we had the chance to test out our response mechanisms. When we brought people back, kind of close to the Fourth of July or thereafter, we saw a spike in the number of cases that was consistent with the percentage that we’re seeing now. And through the measures of quarantine and isolation, we are able to tamp those down.
This is what we have the resources in place to do, and if we sense that we don’t have those resources that we need, we’ll make a different call.
Jed Shivers: Okay, a quick question, a couple of operational questions. This is for Debbie Storrs. If situations occurred that precipitated a move to online, will faculty be given a certain amount of warning time?
Debbie Storrs: Thanks Jed, you know, that’s our mission – it’s an academic one. The thing that will happen is we meet every day with a pandemic team that Jed leads. And so we’re constantly looking at data, answering questions, problem solving, assessing the situation, including our capacities that President Armacost talked about.
The Executive Council meets three times a week, and two of those meetings are specifically about the pandemic. And at any moment, the President or any of us could call a meeting should we need to.
So as soon as we see things moving in a direction where we don’t think there’s capacity to manage this, we will make that decision, and the first thing we will do is to communicate that to our deans and our faculty and our staff, because it is the core mission that we have.
We want faculty to be prepared.
I will say that faculty have spent a lot of time this summer in prepping for that pivot that we may need to take. And so I have great confidence that you’re able to do that better and more effectively than you did in March, because of the support and the time that you’ve engaged in the summer.
That being said, I know the more advanced warning you get the better, both for you and for your students. So we’re committed to communicating that decision as quickly as possible with our faculty.
Jed Shivers: Thanks, Debbie. An operational question, and I’m gonna first pose this to Mike Pieper and then move to Chief Plummer. What efforts are being made to enforce social distancing and mask wearing practices outside of classroom settings, e.g. movement between classes? So Mike, can you talk a little bit about how are we facilitating movement between classes? How’s that working?
Mike Pieper: Well, mainly we’ve been working that through signage and the educational program that marketing and others have worked on.
It’s working well. We’re out working with buildings, making some tweaks and adjustments as we go. We know there are some more adjustments that need to be made once the weather gets cold with some of our patterns. So we’ll continue to work on that.
Outside the building, it’s really back to the communication and education plan that’s been put in place.
Eric Plummer: As far as the mask-wearing, there is no legal mandate right now in the city for our officers to enforce through citing or fining. However, we always have operated through a partnership policing philosophy. So we educate our students on good behavior and what they should be doing not only from a public safety perspective, but also a public health perspective.
So if our officers do see someone not wearing a mask, they will educate them — as should every single other person on this campus, whether you’re faculty, staff or student, you should be partnering with the community to educate each other on the importance of doing this.
So if you have seen it, just go up to a student and say, hey, we’re supposed to be wearing masks. Again, it gets back to the other point. Don’t ask them why they’re not wearing a mask, but just simply go up and model good behavior.
I’ve seen a lot of people on this Zoom meeting and around campus, modeling that effective behavior and educating the community that this is something that we need to do to keep each other safe.
Debbie Storrs: Can I just say I think the biggest influence our faculty can have will be in the classroom where they talk about why masks and face coverings are so important.
I would prefer that technique on faculty’s part rather than — even though as you see people, you can encourage. But I think your most effective strategy would be using them in the classroom to have that conversation about why.
So that’s what I would encourage. I don’t want to escalate the tension on campus, and there are some ADA issues happening. And so I think modeling is most important, and using the classroom for education.
Jed Shivers: One of the things I just want to point out prior to talking about this question is our pandemic planning committee continues to meet. We meet every Monday through Friday at eight o’clock. And right now, because we’ve actually sort of put things in place, we’re really monitoring and seeing how they’re going.
And when we have to change things or adapt, we do it. It happens very fluidly and relatively quickly.
This is actually one we’re going to take to the Pandemic Planning Committee on Monday. The question is, could hotel rooms be made available for faculty and staff who test positive? “I live in a bedroom apartment with a partner and there is no way to quarantine.”
Great question. Honestly, we haven’t really thought about it. Or maybe Chief Plummer has thought about it. Chief, you want to talk about that?
Eric Plummer: From early on in the discussion, our isolation and hotel rooms are not just for students. We have planned on allowing faculty and staff who cannot isolate safely, on a case-by-case basis, to ask if we do have isolation and our quarantine space available for them.
So that is part of the discussion that was going on with the pandemic planning team, as far back as March and April.
Jed Shivers: Thanks, Chief, you know more than me. And I appreciate that.
A question for Peggy. And I just want to note that we’re pretty much coming to the close of our hour. So about one more question, and then we’ll turn this over to President Armacost.
“I’m an employee and afraid to be on campus because of all the positive cases, but I’m worried about being fired if I tell them that. What do you say to employees who are afraid to be on campus?”
So let me just quickly talk about this, from my perspective. The first question is whether or not an employee is required to be on campus as a function of their job. If they are not required to be on campus as a function of the job, we really do encourage people to work remotely because we want to see a less dense campus environment, because that contributes to a lower likelihood of spreading the virus.
But let me now turn to AVP Varberg and get her perspective on what is really an important question.
Peggy Varberg: Yeah, thank you, Jed.
We had a couple of those in the Q&A basically surrounding the same topic. My response was, yes, we are encouraging a less dense environment in workspaces and on campus. And if it’s at all possible, and a person is really concerned, then they should really have a visit with their supervisor. They can call their division HR manager, or myself, and we’ll be happy to help have that conversation.
Not knowing specifically the parameters of their position makes it difficult to answer, generally speaking, but we do encourage that, and we encourage supervisors to be really open to those conversations.
And an employee shouldn’t feel concerned for loss of job because they’re asking for that.
Many people are very concerned and anxious about being in their workspaces on campus or elsewhere in our community. It’s something that we see conversations about consistently, in my world. So I encourage the conversation. We’re happy to help with that conversation.
So, please reach out to myself or the HR manager who’s associated with your division. Happy to help there, but we do encourage it.
Debbie Storrs: Jed, before you turn it over to the President, I just wanted to quickly share something positive that I got, because I think it’s important for us to not only answer these really reasonable and difficult questions, but also to celebrate the work that people are doing.
So I just got this great email from my colleague Heidi Flaten and she said – I hope you don’t mind, Heidi; I’m going to share it because I think it’s important for people to hear.
She said, “My daughter’s a new freshman this fall and is in a mix of on-campus and online courses.” This is her oldest daughter. Her first kid going to college, and she said, “I was nearby when she first logged into Blackboard last week, and I was impressed in the welcome messages that every one of her professors has posted, and the information that they shared about how their classes would work.”
That’s kudos to the faculty, thank you for doing that. That kind of communication to students is what’s important. They want to know what to expect, and they want to learn and so, much gratitude to you. So I hope you don’t mind, Heidi, for me sharing that. Thank you.
Jed Shivers: Now, let me turn it over to President Armacost for some last thoughts as we close out this hour.
President Armacost: Just a couple quick thoughts. The first is to say thanks to everybody for dialing in and listening. I think the numbers I saw were about 530 at the peak, and that shows the level of interest that the faculty and staff have of hearing from us.
Hopefully we’ve answered your questions to your satisfaction. If you continue to have questions, send them up through your chains. They’ll get to us and we’ll make sure they get answers.
Of the ones that we didn’t answer today, they will show up on our Frequently Asked Questions page on the Coronavirus blog. So look for the answers there. We owe you those answers.
But let me just say there’s been so much work across the campus to get ready for this week. You should be proud of the effort and the care that you put forward to make sure that UND can deliver on its promise of a great education for our students.
Of course, we face the challenge of COVID. Hopefully what you’ve heard today are the answers to your questions about how we’re getting there.
Know that your health and safety is the most important thing to all of us. And that we will take very prudent steps in terms of monitoring the situation and making the right decisions at the right time.
So that’s it for today. Thank you for dialing in, and we’ll talk to you soon.