Following is the transcript of the Dec. 7, 2020 parent and student town hall. It also includes questions and answers which were not able to be addressed in the live event due to time constraints.
President Armacost: Hi, this is Andy Armacost. I’m the president of the University of North Dakota. And thanks to everybody for joining us tonight for this informational session.
I’d like to first thank all of my colleagues, the senior leaders of our institution who are here tonight, to answer your questions. And to all the students and family members who have to have signed in, thanks for joining us.
This is a very good way for you to get the most current information about what’s happening on the campus, and in particular, with respect to COVID and our response to it.
Let me encourage you, at this point, to start writing your questions. I’ll say a few more words; but as you’re writing your questions, this will give you a little time to actually get your thoughts put down into the Q&A section. So please, use the Q&A section of Zoom to make that happen.
We’re all delighted to be here. There’s a lot happening in the world of pandemic response, and I know we’ll touch on some news today about testing and new testing strategies that are emerging for the spring semester.
In addition, we have new approaches for quarantine and isolation, particularly quarantine. So, if people are close contacts to infected persons, the CDC recently changed their guidelines about how we should respond, and the state and the University are going to follow those CDC guidelines.
We’ll share more about the details of that as we open up to questions and give you our answers.
We’re delighted you could be here. We know this semester has been one of the most unusual we could expect. So we thank you, the students and also all the family members for sticking with us, for focusing on your on your studies and really finishing strong.
This week is the last week of classes, and then it’ll be off to final exams. We’re proud of you. We know that you’ve worked hard, and we’re really eager to see you finish the semester strong.
With that, let me turn it over to Cassie Gerhardt, our Associate Vice President. So please, Cassie.
Cassie Gerhardt, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs & Diversity/Associate Dean of Students: Thanks, President Armacost. My name is Cassie Gerhardt, and I have the pleasure of serving as the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Diversity.
And just to let everybody know, as President Armacost said, we welcome your questions in the Q&A feature.
As a reminder, following tonight’s Town Hall, we will record this and transcribe it and make it available for future reference. In the next couple of days, we’ll get it posted on the COVID part of our website.
And as in other Town Halls, I’ll just ask my colleagues, as I pass a question to you, if you could please introduce yourself and state your title, we would appreciate it.
Provost Storrs, I think a lot of these first couple of questions we’re getting are probably going to come to you. We’re getting questions related to academics.
The first one I’m going to pivot to you is, How will instruction be offered for the first few weeks of school in January? And as you talk about that, could you also talk about flight operations?
Debbie Storrs, Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs: Sure. Good evening, everyone. I hope your semester is going well, and you’re ready for your finals.
In spring semester, we’re going to start as planned with the typical, both on-campus and online. So if you’ve got your course schedule in front of you, or if you want to access it, it will tell you which courses are online and which are face-to-face. You can also check your Blackboard site to see what instructions your faculty might be giving you about your online or on campus courses.
So, we’ll begin Spring Semester as typical, like we’re doing now. And flight instruction is also planned to continue as it is happening right now.
Things could change; but we’re hopeful that things will continue as-is, and we can all start the Spring Semester strong and focused and in-person.
Cassie Gerhardt: Provost Storrs, staying on the spring semester topic: Do you know if many students are going to be staying home next semester? Do you expect normal numbers in the spring?
Any thoughts on where we’re at in terms of students returning for the spring semester?
Debbie Storrs: Sure. I can tell you in terms of how many classes that we have scheduled to be on campus and online; and currently, the vast majority are face-to-face on campus.
About 67 percent of our classes are offered on campus, and the rest are offered online.
Based on the data that we have thus far, we expect most students to be returning for the spring semester. They’ve had a good fall semester, so we anticipate to have the same number of students returning. There may be an occasional case where students need to take a break, and we’re happy to work with them if they need some support.
Cassie Gerhardt: Okay, another question. With the weather right now, it’s hard to imagine we might ever experience a snow day; and some of us would like them to stay away for a little while longer.
(For those of you not in Grand Forks, the temperature for the last couple of days has been in the upper 30s, low 40s. It is hard to believe it’s December!)
But Provost Storrs, people are asking, How will snow days be handled in light of remote learning? So if you could reference your thoughts on snow days, should we ever get one.
Debbie Storrs: Sure. I’ll open it up to others to jump in as well if you have a different opinion.
You know, when snow days happen, it means that people can’t get out of their house, and faculty who have children or other family members they’re caring for, they can’t access day care and those kinds of things.
So, on a snow day, typically, there are no classes, and you would get informed of that via text or email.
Jed, can you confirm that in terms of the communication process to our students?
Jed Shivers, Vice President for Finance & Operations: Sure. I’m Jed Shivers; I’m the Vice President for Finance and Operations and the COVID lead person, and I’ll ask Chief Eric Plummer, who’s our Associate VP for Public Safety to also comment.
But yes, I think, Debbie, you have it exactly right. Generally speaking on a snow day, we suspend activity. It means that people really can’t get around. It’s either too unsafe to drive or too cold to do much of anything.
So my sense is, in spite of the fact that we have remote capability, we would probably close.
Chief Plummer, would you like to comment further on that?
Eric Plummer, Associate Vice President for Public Safety and Chief of Police: Yes, that is correct. One of the things that we anticipated early on during the pandemic was since we are now in remote learning, how would this affect snow day operations? So we did a tabletop operation, just to see what people were thinking about, regarding not only the on-campus operations, but also the academic environment.
For much of the reasons that Provost Storrs and Vice President Shivers mentioned, we decided to go ahead and continue snow days as they have been in the past.
Cassie Gerhardt: Thank you. We’re going to shift gears away from COVID. President Armacost, this question is for you, and Bill Chaves, you may be ready and have some follow up.
President Armacost, the question is, With regards to the two hockey players who kneeled during the hockey game last Thursday, what is being done to address future happenings like this?
President Armacost: So this is a really good question. And let me tell you about what led to this, of course, and that’s the players’ belief in making statements about injustice in our society and lack of inclusion.
They felt their conscience would put them in that position. Of course, last Friday, I issued a statement to the campus that said, with regard to action being taken against the two hockey players, there’s really no action. They have the right to express themselves freely; it’s a guiding principle of our Constitution, our First Amendment rights to free speech.
Regarding future instances, we don’t know what will happen, but rest assured that the issues of diversity and inclusion are discussed actively within UND athletics.
There’s Student Athletes for Inclusion and Diversity; it’s called S-A-I-D, or SAID. And then the Student Athlete Advisory Council. They talk about these issues within teams. They’re talking about issues of race and equity.
So, the main way to really reassure those players is to have welcome ears, both from their coaches; from Bill Chaves, our athletic director; and from all of the senior administrators, to make sure that they know that their voices are being heard.
Yet, the possibility still remains that people choose to make a statement by kneeling. And if they kneel again, whether it’s hockey players or some other athletes, rest assured that’s it’s a First Amendment right that they can execute.
But nobody should ever do that by taking this lightly. The national symbol — the national anthem and the flag — are important to so many people in our nation; the veterans who have given their lives, the veterans who have survived tough situations. And to go to make that statement is really — I’ve heard a lot from veterans this past week about how it makes them feel.
Nonetheless, the statement, the righteous cause of those who take a knee and the decision to do so, is one that won’t be punished by the university.
Bill Chaves, UND Athletic Director: I appreciate that, Dr. Armacost. Last week, you put out a video that I thought articulated that well.
Obviously, we’ve got a Task Force for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion that is doing great work on campus. And I think anytime that you have opportunity to have great conversations on a campus, it just provides opportunity.
I think that’s where we are at this point in time. And you’ve articulated it correctly, we do have a Student Athlete Inclusion and Diversity group. And they’ve done lots of good work thus far, and will continue to do good work as we move forward.
President Armacost: And now, let me also turn to Cara Halgren. Dr. Halgren was the co-chair of our Task Force on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and she’s been instrumental in laying a great foundation for the future of our campus. Cara?
Cara Halgren, Vice President for Student Affairs & Diversity: Thank you. My name is Cara Halgren, and I serve as the Vice President for Student Affairs and Diversity.
And the only thing that I’ll add here is that we know that sometimes, these conversations are difficult. What gives me great hope is that in the last several months, as we’ve talked as a Task Force, we’ve grappled with some really challenging ideas, and they’re not ideas that we all agreed on – like this particular incident. I don’t know that everybody agrees on the response.
That’s not the most important part. The part that I think is important is that we create space where people can have articulate and respectful dialogue about these issues. And people can wrestle and grapple with them and come to their own understandings about what they believe and why.
And I think again, that’s the greatest thing about being at an institution like UND, where there is space to do that.
We look forward to more conversations as part of the Task Force and others later on.
Cassie Gerhardt: We’re going to switch back to COVID. And we’ve got some questions related to the vaccinations that are on the horizon.
Rosy and Dr. Wynne, these questions are for the two of you.
Rosy, I’ll start with you. Will UND be able to offer COVID-19 vaccines to students once the vaccines become more readily available, and do you have any idea of when that might be?
Rosy Dub, Director for COVID Clinical Response: Good evening. My name is Rosy Dub, and I’m working as the director for UND’s COVID clinical response.
The vaccine will be available to UND students, faculty and staff, but certainly not in the first round.
The COVID vaccine will be passed out and distributed based on priorities and tiers, with the first priority being frontline health care workers so they can stay well enough to take care of our COVID and other patients.
Then, the next on the list is likely to be people in long-term care and the most vulnerable. So, long-term care workers and residents.
Following that, it will be phased out into the more general public.
And depending on what your risk categories are, you may fall in different areas. But what we’re hearing now is that the vaccine for the general public and students likely will not be here until maybe late spring/early summer.
But yes, we will be vaccinating everybody — faculty, students and staff.
I believe there’s a question, too, about “Will UND be a hub for storage and distribution for vaccines?” I saw that on the chat line.
We were fortunate ahead of time to get into our possession a freezer that is an ultra low temp freezer that will store some of the vaccine.
However, all through this, we’ve worked closely with our community partners, meaning Public Health, Altru and the other entities in town. And we recognize that we will offer up our services in our space to work with them.
So, we may likely store some of that vaccine; but it doesn’t mean that we will be able to access it at that time.
We will follow the state plan for what the distribution will be. But yes, we may be storing some of it on campus.
Cassie Gerhardt: Dr. Wynne, anything to add?
Joshua Wynne, Vice President for Health Affairs and Dean of the School of Medicine & Health Sciences: Hi, Josh Wynne, Vice President for Health Affairs and Dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and a physician and public health specialist as well. I think Rosy covered it very well. As you probably know from the news media, there are two candidate vaccines that are already being produced. We expect that they will be approved for what is called an emergency use authorization for them this week and probably next week. And the vaccines will ship immediately thereafter. The distribution to different states is being determined by the federal government. But the distribution priority within the state is determined on a state basis as well, as you mentioned.
So initially, the state of North Dakota is going to get a relatively small supply of vaccine. But it is anticipated that that will increase substantially in the coming months. I agree with Rosy’s prediction, though, that for otherwise healthy young students, for example, I would not expect there to be vaccine available in the first quarter of the coming year. But we do expect it in the second quarter, maybe into the third quarter. But I think when we think about a year from now, I think the pandemic situation is going to be substantially and dramatically different. But I do not think the New Year’s gift to us on January 1 is that COVID will disappear. It will take a number of months beyond that, until we get enough people vaccinated that we get what is called herd immunity, where we have enough people with protection, that almost everyone gets protected. Thank you.
Cassie Gerhardt: Thanks, Dr. Wynne. Another question for you on testing. Will students be asked to get tested upon return in January? And what’s the spring testing strategy?
Rosy Dub: I think that is something that is up for discussion. We can assure students and parents that we will have testing. Whether or not that will be required is something to be determined yet. We are going to continue our weekly PCR or mass testing events. In addition to that we are making what’s called rapid antigen testing that would be more accessible and more available to more students, faculty and staff on a much more regular schedule. The antigen testing, you get the results in 15 minutes. So it’s a point-of-care test, and we’d like to set up sites across campus that would allow easier access for students, faculty and staff. And allow us to have quicker identification of a positive case, much quicker isolation of those cases and follow-up contact tracing. Testing will be a very crucial part of the spring semester, especially at the onset until we do have a vaccine that is available to all of us.
Cassie Gerhardt: Thanks, Rosy. Vice President Shivers, Jed, I’ve got a question for you: What do numbers of positive COVID cases look like on campus and when you decide to go online only? How high the number needs to be in Grand Forks and on campus to warrant only online instruction?
Jed Shivers: I actually turn to our dashboard, and I hope people that asked this question go on the main UND website. You’ll see a COVID section and you look on the left side when you open up that page. And you’ll see a thing that says UND COVID-19 dashboard. Click on that and you have all the stats. So right now total faculty staff and student positives are 57. That’s quite low for us. There could be a whole bunch of reasons for that. I know that our recent student positive testing rate from our latest testing event was very low, about 2 percent. But again, it’s hard to know exactly what’s causing that. It could be that a lot of people are not on campus, etc. But it’s good news. It’s a lot better than having a much higher result as we did before. And I think anyone who’s aware of this area knows that it was a pretty hot spot and still remains a hot spot in terms of the number of positive tests per week in terms of hospitalizations, and so on.
So and now to answer I think what’s the main question is, as we’ve said fairly consistently through these months, there really is no magic number that determines whether or not we’re going to go online completely. And the reason for that is because the number of cases, for example, isn’t really determinative. It’s certainly an indicator, but what we really look at is the things that we look at almost every day. I can assure you, I would say that there’s a lot of people on this Zoom who look at this stuff every day. What we’re looking at is number of positive cases. What’s the status with our local health care providers and the hospital? What’s happening around the state? Where are we? Whether we’ve hit our wave and now that wave is cresting or will there be future, higher waves? I don’t think anybody can say. But really, it is a multivariate type of analysis. I’m not going to suggest it’s numerical. I think it’s an understanding of what’s going on in our region, and most specifically, locally. We make our decisions on that basis.
The best thing is for people to continue to observe [precautions] until there’s ubiquitous vaccination. The best thing is for people to observe the same kind of safety standards that they’re observing: wear a mask, keep your distance, try and work in less dense areas. Those are the ways we’ve found to be extremely successful. And that’s how we’ve been able to – in conjunction with all the efforts of the state, the federal government and our local elected officials and health care providers and public health – continue to keep our campus open.
Cassie Gerhardt: Thanks, Jed. For a question related to testing: Is testing on campus confidential?
Rosy Dub: Testing and results are definitely information that we keep very private or confidential. Because it is a public health issue, there is some leeway that whenever there is action to be taken to protect the health and safety of the campus or environment, certain information can be released to appropriate bodies. So with that, if we need to identify a group that is at high risk for spreading the disease, if we identify a case in a specific area where there’s high risk of spread, we need to alert that area that there has been a positive case in the area and then go from there. We base our information or any kind of release of information strictly on need to know. So it is not something that is freely shared by any means. Anytime we release any information to anybody, it’s a required public health response to that information.
Cassie Gerhardt: Rosy, staying with you: Have UND students who have recovered from COVID-19 become re-infected? Are we aware of students who have become re-infected with COVID?
Rosy Dub: I am not definitely aware of that. We know that if people test positive and they retest within the following 90 days, they may still test positive. That does not mean a re-infection. If somebody is testing positive again and getting re-infected, they would be definitely checked out by a public health official to make sure that there were new symptoms or that they were recently around someone who was positive again. I do not have confirmation of a student being re-infected, but I can’t say that that hasn’t happened yet.
Joshua Wynne: Maybe I can just say a little bit from a medical standpoint. There have been a handful of cases reported worldwide, where it has been reasonably well documented that people became re-infected. But we in the medical community believe that this is rare. It does occur, but it’s not common. I am not aware of either of it happening not only at UND with it, but within the North Dakota University System. And in fact, the most recent reports about the protective effect of getting both the disease and especially getting vaccinated is that long term protection looks like the rule rather than the exception. Time will tell. We don’t have all of the data yet, but we believe, especially after the vaccine, that re-infection or infection is going to be quite uncommon.
Cassie Gerhardt: Dr. Wynne, I’m going to give this question to you, and Rosy may have a follow up: Will out of state students be able to obtain a vaccine? If a vaccine is available to students in May and they can obtain a dose, can they get a dose in one state and their follow-up dose in another state?
Joshua Wynne: I would give a qualified yes to that. There are two parts of the qualification. One is that we will need to make sure there is coordination of the medical records and there are legal and other aspects of that that have to be looked at. The second is with different vaccines, it’s very important that a first dose and a second dose are of the same vaccine. There are two candidate vaccines that are about to be released, one from Pfizer and one from Moderna. They are similar but different. And for instance, one of the differences is that the Pfizer vaccine is given at three-week intervals, and the Moderna at four weeks. You do not want to confuse the two. So I believe that out of state will be able to be accommodated, but we need to verify that and especially verify that the individual is getting the same vaccine, rather than one of each.
Rosy Dub: I can add a little bit to that. Our student health clinic has been anticipating that throughout the summer, and probably in the fall, that students are going to be coming back needing their second dose. As Dr. Wynne mentioned, we’re going to need to be sure we know what brand of vaccine. We have to give the appropriate one. This is kind of an opportunity to bring students and parents on here to plug the public health information that this vaccine does not come without side effects. It’s nothing that should really keep you from work or school, but you will perhaps notice achiness, a low temp, maybe a headache. We just want to let people know about that ahead of time. So when they receive their first vaccine and they experience some symptoms, they aren’t deterred from receiving the second vaccine. They need to have the complete series to be protected. So just know that this one will make you a little bit more uncomfortable than your previous shots have been, but they’re tolerable and expect it and know that you do need to come back for the second vaccine.
Joshua Wynne: Maybe let me mention one thing really fast, if I might. On following up on what Rosie just said, these are not viral vectors that are given in the vaccine. You are not getting a mild case of COVID from the vaccine. This is just the reaction to the material in the vaccine. It is impossible – impossible – to get COVID from the vaccine. Those mild symptoms are not due to what you’re getting. It is not what we call a denatured or killed virus that you’re getting. It is absolutely not. You can’t get COVID from the vaccine.
Cassie Gerhardt: Thank you. While we’re on vaccines, Dr. Halgren, I’m going to give this question to you: I know this is far in advance, but would UND require a COVID vaccine once it is readily available?
Cara Halgren: The North Dakota University System, which is the system made up of all of the universities in in North Dakota – minus tribal institutions, private institutions. Right now, we actually require certain vaccinations for students to come to school. Whether or not this would be added to that list of required vaccinations is yet to be determined. However, we would say that at this point, this is a conversation that’s currently taking place. I think we’re going to have to wait and see what happens in terms of vaccines being available and how the conversation goes. But we currently have a path available to us if we decided that we wanted to do this as a system.
Cassie Gerhardt: While we’re on vaccines, Dr. Storrs I’m going to give this one to you because it’s even more specific: Is there guidance about flight students receiving the vaccine? Will the FAA pull their medical if they get it prior to FAA approval?
Debbie Storrs: Thanks for the question. Unfortunately, there’s no definitive answer on that yet. The FAA is monitoring that, and our leadership at Aerospace is monitoring that as well. So as soon as we learn, we will share that with our flight instructors and our students who are flying.
Cassie Gerhardt: Vice President Shivers, I’m going to bring one to you. Do you anticipate any quarantine or isolation requirements for students upon returning after the winter break? So, when students return in January, any anticipation of quarantine requirements?
Jed Shivers: In other words, the question is, just because someone is returning from not being in Grand Forks, would we quarantine or isolate them?
Cassie Gerhardt: I think it’s also similar to some students’ experiences at the start of the fall semester, and especially to students maybe coming back from Canada, if you could just address what we’re aware of, at this point.
Jed Shivers: I can’t speak definitively to the Canadian question, and I’ll punt that one up to Chief Plummer to see if he has any thoughts on it. But I would say, generically, with regard to students arriving from outside of Grand Forks, unless we have specific information that an area is particularly hot and we’ve been alerted to that by our State Department of Health, I do not anticipate any type of generic requirement to quarantine or isolate. I do think it’s going to be critically important for students to get tested. I would say the most important thing they could do is, upon arrival, to get tested right away. We’ll see what their status is and we’ll work it from there, as we always do. But no, I don’t foresee any generic quarantine as a function of arriving from a place outside of town.
Eric Plummer: Yes, Cassie, earlier in the spring and in the fall semester we had a state health officer’s order that spoke to the need to quarantine and isolate coming from foreign locations, or locations within the United States. That health officer order had been rescinded, so unless we get another health officer order that speaks to quarantine and isolation requirements, we don’t have that right now. If it does become happen, we’ll communicate that to the broader campus community.
Cassie Gerhardt: Just to make sure we’re getting all aspects of this question, there was a follow-up. Will students need to produce a negative test result before attending class? And to our knowledge, there is no expectation of this.
Rosy, a question for you. Should students who recovered from COVID-19, who return home for Christmas Break remain masked while indoors at the family home? Can they carry the virus in their nasal passages even while being immune themselves?
Rosy Dub: We do have what we call condoned immunity for those 90 days following a positive test, which makes them kind of golden in their book, meaning they should not be infectious to other people. With that, I would say that no – they can go home and they don’t need to mask indoors with their family. However, we want to use every tool that we have in our toolbox. So even though you’ve been positive and you’re within 90 days, we do ask you to still follow the basic principles of distancing when you can; wear face coverings when you’re out and about with people and wash your hands frequently. You don’t want to challenge that immunity either. But, no, you would not need to be wearing a facemask in your home. Dr. Wynne, do you have anything to add to that?
Joshua Wynne: The only thing that I would caution for all of us – this is students, faculty, staff, families and so forth – is to not let our guard down. We are quite concerned that there could be a resurgence of the virus and nullify the good gains we’ve made in North Dakota over the past week if people are not careful over the holidays.
So the things that Jed mentioned remain important: if you’re interacting with others, wear masks as appropriate, wash your hands, keep your distance and, especially for all of us, thinking about holiday get-togethers, to try to be as judicious and careful as we all can be about those holiday get-togethers. I like to say that the best size of a group is one person. Obviously that’s not practical around the holidays and so forth, but keeping the gatherings as small as possible is clearly advisable. It’s what Susan and I have decided to do for our holiday time, as painful as that is. And I would just ask everyone to think hard about the size of gatherings over the holidays.
Cassie Gerhardt: Rosy, talk a little about the 90-day immunity. There’s another question: if a student has already had COVID, do they need to continue to get tested? Could you speak to it both in the 90-day immunity as well as beyond the 90 days?
Rosy Dub: If you’ve tested positive, you should not test within the next 90 days. You could have a very low viral load in your system that could show a positive test, but you’re no longer infectious, so the principle is being don’t test for 90 days after you’ve been positive – with the caveat that if you would become symptomatic, or have new symptoms arrive again, you should consult with your medical provider and they would determine whether or not you should be retested for COVID. And probably after ruling out other infections or other illnesses.
Cassie Gerhardt: Then beyond the 90 days, when should people start testing again?
Rosy Dub: Again, my response is based on what we do for the general public and all students, and that means after 90 days, people are back to square one. Meaning at that time, if you are identified as a close contact, you are going to be asked to quarantine again and you can be retested again after 90 days. I’m also going to throw a little part in there. Some different bodies may have different rules, such as NCAA, may govern slightly differently. If anybody has anything to add, please do, but that’s where I would be right now.
Cassie Gerhardt: Rosy, another question. Is UND adapting to the new CDC quarantine or isolation guidelines?
Rosy Dub: Yes, we are. We are in compliance with the CDC guidelines. Unfortunately, we have been working yesterday and today to try and get them up on the blogs. They’re ready to go, but yes we will. One thing that has not changed is that if you are a positive case, your isolation period has not changed. You still need to isolate for 10 days. However quarantine period has changed, that is reduced from 14 days to 10 days. You also have the option on day seven, you could test and get a negative test and test out at seven days. You can’t quarantine less than seven days, but you can potentially test in that timeframe and be released at the end of the seventh day.
I was asked a question earlier today, at the earlier town hall, I said that you want to test on day six to get out on day seven, and that goes with the understanding that your quarantine ends at 11:59 p.m. on day seven if you get a negative result and you don’t have symptoms. The only way to meet that 48 hour interval is to actually test on day six. Unless you can find someone to test you at 11:59 p.m. on the fifth day. So that’s why we say test on day six to get out at the end of day seven. That is an adjutant test, the 15-minute rapid one, or the PCR test.
Cassie Gerhardt: I’ll just encourage people to keep asking questions, and here’s one I know we haven’t gotten to. I kind of stayed in the vaccine and COVID testing. So Provost Storrs, a question for you regarding Aerospace and the recent shutdown they did. The question is, can you confirm there has been a day shutdown in the Aerospace College? Had there been a COVID outbreak in the academic area, more so than other areas? If so, thoughts on COVID testing? So could you just clarify the event that Aerospace did last week?
Debbie Storrs: Last Wednesday, the Flight Operations leadership decided to do a safety stand-down. They made that decision not because there was an outbreak or huge spike among instructors or students, but as a reminder about safety protocol. And they’ve done a fantastic job in Flight Operations. Students have been following protocol, particularly when they’re flying. But it was a reminder for everyone to consider their behavior outside of the cockpit. So your behavior after-hours, outside of campus. We know that on campus, because of our protocol and safety features, we don’t know of any cases in the classroom or in the cockpit. But we do know that people engage in the community and may go to parties or bars or other events where they’re gathering, not wearing masks and not washing their hands. So it was a great day to say, let’s pause and remind everyone of the importance of following protocol, even when you’re off campus. I’m really proud of Flight Operations. The team there, under Dick Schultz, Brian Willis and Jeremy Roesler, they made that decision to have to have the safety stand-down, again, just to focus on behavior in and outside of the cockpit. There was also a dean forum in that evening, Wednesday the 2nd, where the dean and others could answer questions from students about that day. We’re really proud of them.
Cassie Gerhardt: Provost Storrs, while we’re talking Flight Operations, is there a formal final day that flight students can have a lesson this semester? So, is there a plan for when Flight Operations might be halted for the fall semester?
Debbie Storrs: I don’t have the answer to that, I will text one of my colleagues in Aerospace and see if they can answer that question for me, and get back to you.
Cassie Gerhardt: Whoever has that question in the chat, we’ll figure out a way to get it to you. Rosy, I have heard that the antigen test has the best results if someone has symptoms vs. using with those who are asymptomatic. What is your knowledge about this?
Rosy Dub: The antigen test works differently than what we do with the deep-nasal swab test, the PCR test. The antigen test is best-used for symptomatic patients. It will pick up a higher level of virus, which is present when someone is symptomatic. That was the original purpose for the antigen testing. However, there has been evidence shown that even using it for surveillance, in mass testing, has been successful in picking up asymptomatic cases. Just a long story short, there is value in doing surveillance testing with the antigen test, as well. It’s not the gold thing that we would like with PCR, but you trade that off for having the rapid response and results.
Cassie Gerhardt: I will just remind people that we have upcoming testing events. We are testing at the High Performance Center every Tuesday and every other Saturday. All of the dates and times are available on the website. That will not stop when winter break happens. I know we have testing on Dec. 29, that’s one date that stands out, so please know that testing will not stop even though we are in winter break. We know it is a valuable resource to our students who might remain on campus, as well as to members of the Grand Forks community. Those events will continue, and you can find the dates and times on the website.
Debbie Storrs: Got it hot off the presses: We are open through the holidays, closed over Christmas for three days and New Year’s for three days. That’s from Dick Schultz in Flight Operations.
Cassie Gerhardt: So for the question, there really isn’t a formal final date, there are just some stoppages over the Christmas Day and New Year’s Day holiday.
So Rosy, I am going to come back to you with another question: Isn’t there a high level of false positives with rapid testing? Do you recommend asymptomatic positive get a PCR test if they test positive?
Rosy Dub: I would say it’s kind of the other way around. There’s a higher rates of false negatives. The positives are pretty much positive. But our guidance will be if somebody is symptomatic, meaning they have any of those symptoms, and they get a negative antigen test, we want them to get a PCR test, because we could miss a positive. So again the rate of false positives is not that high. They’re pretty much a positive, they’re positive. But we do have to wrestle with to a certain degree of false negatives. That’s not high enough to pick him up. Anybody have anything to add to that?
Joshua Wynne: I would just add that there’s several different antigen tests available. And, there have been reports, at least in the media, of some false positives. We are pretty confident with the antigen test that we’re going to be using, the BinaxNOW made by Abbott, that it has pretty good, what we call, specificity. That is, it’s pretty unlikely – not impossible – but pretty unlikely to have a false positives. The bigger concern is as Rosy said with this product, especially in asymptomatic individuals, is that it may be falsely negative. But the number of false positives is pretty low based on the information that we have. And in fact, we have some information from our own North Dakota Department of Health that actually confirms that that that it is not common to have a false positive that is a positive test when there’s no evidence of disease.
Cassie Gerhardt: Thank you both for the additional clarification. Rosy, this is going to come to you. If our daughter is well, gets tested on Tuesday, gets a negative result on Thursday and travels home on Friday, can we be pretty comfortable that she didn’t bring the virus home? So again, got tested on Tuesday, get the negative results on Thursday, and then travels home and Friday after she’s gotten a negative result. Can we be pretty comfortable that she didn’t bring the virus home?
Rosy Dub: I always say that that person is probably doing the best that they can to be as safe as they can. The test is a point-in-time test only. So you are negative on the day that that test was taken on Tuesday. It is not to say that you couldn’t have been exposed and turn positive in the next couple of days. My advice would be to test and then the famous “lay low” until you go home. So test and if you have a negative result, keep yourself away from crowds, people, risk factors until you go home. Please don’t take that extra risk of taking it home to somebody.
Joshua Wynne: I think Rosie has good advice. What I would say is, I would have more confidence that the person is non-transmittable the closer to the test that time is. As more time elapses, people who were exposed, that can allow enough time for the virus to replicate, so that the person can become infectious down the road. So a negative test today, I would feel pretty comfortable in having, you know, my daughter come home tonight with a negative test. But a couple of days from now, the negative test today does not mean that she’s still negative several days from now. So, I agree with Rosie. It’s the best you can do under the circumstances but don’t get arrogant about it and assume that the negative test means that you’re non-transmissible. Lay as low as possible, just as Rosie said. Better to get tested and have it negative than to not do anything but it should not be considered a life insurance policy that you don’t have COVID because you could.
Cassie Gerhardt: Thank you, Dr. Wynne. We did ask this one but I want to make sure that we did get the answer provided really clearly. Students traveling out of North Dakota to their home in another state, does that student require a COVID test prior to coming back to campus after the winter break?
Eric Plummer: Right now, it’s not required. However, it is highly recommended that anytime you travel, especially coming back into the Grand Forks area, that you visit one of our testing locations and receive a test. We will offer additional testing dates prior to the start of the spring semester.
Cassie Gerhardt: Thanks, Chief. So, we’ve reached another lull. We’ve got about 10 minutes left. If you’ve got any additional questions, please include them in the Q&A, we want to make sure that they’re answered. I will also say, if for some reason we didn’t get your question answered or if you’ve got a specific personal circumstance that may be warrants some additional follow up, please feel free, you can email me and I will get it to the appropriate person. You see my name on the screen is at a dot between first and last name and then @und.edu. And I’m happy to get your question directly.
We want to make sure that students and parents and family members have the answers they need. And we know tonight we keep the responses really to broader general questions. But if you’ve got a specific circumstance we can help you with, by all means, please, reach out to us. We want to make sure that we’re addressing them. Yes, Provost Storrs.
Debbie Storrs: I’ve just been getting some more details about when the flight training will be closed. I wanted to get that. I wrote it in the message as well. But they’ll be completely closed between December 24 and 27 and January 1 and January 3. So, no flights those dates, but otherwise they should be able to accommodate folks.
Cassie Gerhardt: Thanks, Provost Storrs. And I will just offer a few words and then I’m going to turn it over to President Armacost. We are seeing a lot of thank yous from parents in the chat and some of those are parents’ names that I recognize. It’s nice to see our families. And we just want to say thanks to our families and students for the partnership that they showed us this year.
We know that parents are worried about their students being far away. We know, we’ve had some questions to answer and all that. But we really appreciate your commitment to the University of North Dakota and the faith that you’ve put in and trust you put in us to educate your students. And so my thanks to all the parents who joined us this evening and for their ongoing partnership with us. We can’t do it alone and we value that greatly. And so given now, I’m getting mostly thank yous and not questions. I think that is a sign, President Armacost, to turn it over to you to wrap us up this evening.
President Armacost: Thanks, Cassie, and thanks to all the panelists. Most importantly, thanks to the students and family members for joining us. This is hopefully good information for you. Let’s continue to make great decisions to keep yourselves safe and to keep all those around you safe as well. Traveling back and forth between Grand Forks and hometowns over the holidays, take precautions to all the things that Jed Shiver said earlier and by all means. Rosy Dub wins the great lyric recognition competition. Who knew that Rosy Dub was a Lady Gaga fan? But let’s encourage everybody to lay low before you go and everybody have a great night. Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk soon.
Q&A: Following are questions and answers that were not answered in the live Town Hall.
Do the dining centers close during a snow day?
The dining centers will remain open during snow days, although the hours may be modified, depending upon the availability of staff.
Will summer term also be remote/hybrid learning?
Yes, at this point in time, we are planning that summer will be remote. This may change depending on the vaccinations.
Is there a formal final day that flight students can have a lesson this semester?
Aerospace should be able to accommodate normal flight training through Dec. 22. Then between Dec. 22 and Jan. 4, they will be open on a limited basis. Flight training will be closed completely Dec. 24-27 and Jan. 1-3.
Thank you, you guys are doing a great job!
Thank you for tonight and for the regular town halls!
Thank you and happy healthy holidays