From the Dean: A successful restart to the semester depends on us all

The recent trend in North Dakota of new COVID-19 cases is troubling, especially given the upcoming start of the fall semester for most UND students – especially undergraduates – next week. The number of active cases in the state has increased rapidly and worryingly in the recent past. Given the plan to restart face-to-face instruction on campus then, it will continue to be important for students in particular to do two critical things – first, to get tested for COVID-19 before returning to campus so that they can be isolated if they test positive; and second, for students (and the rest of us!) to really exercise personal responsibility and take seriously UND policies regarding disease mitigation practices, such as mask use (as appropriate), frequent handwashing and other sanitary measures such as cleaning of environmental surfaces, and especially the avoidance of large social gatherings. The recent well-reported experiences at a variety of campuses nationwide where apparent lapses in the exercise of personal responsibility (such as participating in large gatherings) has resulted in the appearance of COVID-19 “hotspots” and the subsequent rescission of plans to restart in-person educational experiences should be a cautionary tale for us.

Make no mistake about it – we do know what works to limit the transmission and spread of the disease. So to have a successful fall semester that includes in-person education, students (along with faculty, staff and members of the community) will need to be steadfast in doing those “simple” things that we know work. I know from talking with many of our fourth-year medical students over the past week or two that they are very appreciative of being back in the clinical setting (be it hospital or clinic) but also are anxious as to what might happen if we have to remove them yet again from those settings. When the pandemic first hit, the removal of students from the clinical environment was a dual decision – on the advice of the Association of American Medical Colleges, we removed students from those settings to help protect their health and that of the community. But the health delivery institutions also asked us to remove the students, usually because they were concerned about potential shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE). While the PPE picture is better now, it still could be a concern if the local pandemic numbers continue to worsen.

So it remains to be seen what the future brings, but I can’t overemphasize the importance for all of us to “follow the rules.” Students have made it clear that they value in-person education in general, and this obviously is doubly true for students in clinical environments. But the continuation of those experiences is dependent on all of us doing those things that help to keep the impact of the pandemic under control. If you’ve been following the rules, please continue to do so. And if you haven’t, now would be a great time to start! In reality, whether UND and the School can start as scheduled and remain open for in-person education will be determined not by administration but rather by the faculty, staff, and students of UND. Please help to make us all “UND proud!”

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