From the Dean: Dr. Deborah Birx visits Fargo

Earlier this week, the building we own and operate in Minot that houses our Center for Family Medicine and our Minot-based family medicine residency suffered a major setback when a water main in the building burst unexpectedly and flooded the basement, causing substantial damage and necessitating the closure of the facility. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of our faculty, staff, students and others, patient-care and educational activities have been successfully transferred to other locations, but the building will remain closed until we are sure that we can safely reopen for patient care. At a time when our clinical practices (such as the one in Minot) were starting to recover from the negative financial impact of COVID-19, this certainly was not good news. But we are dealing with this unfortunate event and hope to resume normal operations as soon as it is feasible, but realistically this may not be for some time. So please join me in saying “thank you” to our dedicated Minot contingent of the UND SMHS family as they deal with this additional challenge during an already challenging time.

And on the pandemic front, you may have heard that Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator for the White House, visited Fargo this past Saturday. Governor Burgum’s office invited me to attend the meeting, but I was out of town on a family gathering (we were scrupulous in observing safe practices in the era of COVID-19, by the way). But the conference provided useful insights as to the trends that are being seen nationally. One of the important themes that has emerged of late is how often young people appear to be spreading the disease despite the absence of symptoms – it appears likely that the majority of young people who test positive are truly asymptomatic. Thus, based on the strong recommendation from Dr. Birx, the Governor, the State Board of Higher Education and the North Dakota University System (NDUS) are urging NDUS students to remain on campus this holiday weekend and refrain from traveling back home to their local communities for fear of further unwitting transmission of the virus. In addition, further testing opportunities for university personnel (especially students) have been arranged this week on quite short notice. Congratulations to the Governor’s Office, the North Dakota Department of Health and the various local public health units in the state, along with the 11 institutions that comprise the NDUS, for adding these testing options in such short order. As you undoubtedly are aware, North Dakota currently is experiencing a nasty uptick in COVID-19 cases, and aggressive intervention to reverse the trend is needed. So as much as we’d like to see our students home with their families for the long weekend, we ask them to think of the safety of their parents, grandparents and community members, and stay put here in Grand Forks or on one of our regional campuses if that’s where they currently are located.

Finally, a reminder that we now are just about one week from our first-ever virtual Joggin’ with Josh event. I hope that you will join Susan and me (virtually) for a walk, jog or run anytime on Sat., Sept. 12. I’ll be posting pictures of both of us out exercising, and I hope that you’ll do the same. Further details about the event are available here. We’ve usually had about 100 participants in prior Joggin’ with Josh outings, and so far we’ve had over 170 sign-up this year so that’s really neat to see in the face of a pandemic. I can’t think of a better way to keep our spirits up, satisfy our desire to stay connected, and demonstrate our commitment to heath and healthy living than to join together (albeit virtually) in this event. So I’m looking forward to “seeing” many of you on Saturday, Sept. 12 for our annual Joggin’ with Josh event.

Again, I encourage each of you to remain vigilant and consistent in the use of physical distancing, hand-washing, masking-up on or off campus, and getting tested as appropriate. We collectively are part of a community whose members care for one another, and we are in this together.

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