From the Dean: Return-to-work and other COVID-19 updates

I suspect that you, like me, have periods of concern and worry regarding the current pandemic and especially how it might impact the future. I was, quite frankly, struggling a bit emotionally earlier in the week, especially after yet again having to interact over the weekend with our five grandkids virtually rather than in person. But attending (again, virtually!) the annual Judd Sondreal Memorial Rise and Shine for Peace event put on by the Community Violence Intervention Center (CVIC) helped to put things into a better perspective. In case you are unaware, this event is a yearly fundraiser for CVIC, which helps victims of violence in the community, domestic or otherwise. CVIC is based in Grand Forks, N.D., and provides services locally. Its mission is straightforward: preventing violence, promoting safety and building hope. Susan and I have admired what its people do to help reduce violence and promote peace in our community and have supported it financially over the years. The event usually is an early-morning over-breakfast get-together – hence the name Rise and Shine for Peace – but because of the pandemic this year it was the (virtual) Judd Sondreal Memorial Rise and Shine for Peace Evening Edition! As usual, it was a moving event, where we yet again were shown the difference that CVIC and its people can make in the lives of vulnerable members of our community.

So instead of worrying about the impact of the pandemic on me, I was able to widen my view a bit and think instead about the members of our community who are facing far more troubling conditions and challenges. And to hear prior victims of violence bear witness to the remarkable difference that CVIC has made in their lives was uplifting – and therapeutic. So if you didn’t have a chance to participate this past Tuesday night, I would encourage you to go to CVIC’s website, see what they do and contribute if you can. I guarantee that you won’t regret clicking on their page!

I also enjoyed yesterday’s Java with Josh event, where we got together (virtually again!) with faculty and staff to discuss issues related to UND and the School. We had “attendance” of nearly 100 online participants! Not surprisingly, the common theme of the discussions related to COVID-19 issues, especially what we are doing to maximize as safe an environment as possible with the upcoming return to in-person instruction and greater in-building work by faculty and staff. In case you weren’t able to join us, UND has a helpful website that outlines the essential elements involved in UND’s pandemic preparedness, including physical distancing requirements, face covering, sanitation of rooms and so on. Additionally, we are working hard in conjunction with the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) to make widespread screening for COVID-19 available just prior to the return of students to the Grand Forks campus (and other campuses) later in August. The plan is to have screening easily available especially for returning students so that we can identify those who are asymptomatic – and thus likely to spread it. Such so-called surveillance screening should go a long way in keeping the campuses – and the surrounding communities – as COVID-free as possible. I hope to have more information about this screening from the NDDoH soon, and we will make sure that it is widely disseminated once it becomes available.

Testing is a critical component of dealing with the current pandemic, but only one component. Work continues by the North Dakota University System (NDUS) Smart Restart Task Force that I chair to help coordinate the numerous return-to-campus issues and associated policies and procedures related to our COVID-19 responses, in addition to ongoing testing and contact tracing. The Task Force is advised by three working groups: one for the two research universities, one for the medium-sized institutions and one for the smaller colleges. Additionally, since my appointment as the chief health strategist for the state, our health strategy group has been hard at work developing a process so that we can bring forth a comprehensive strategic plan by the end of 2020. This effort will involve the input and recommendations of many individuals from both the public and private sectors, and we anticipate a rather frenetic time from now until the end of the calendar year. I’ll have much more to report back to you on this effort over the next few weeks and months.

Joshua Wynne, MD, MBA, MPH
Vice President for Health Affairs, UND
Dean, UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences