From the Dean: Revised pandemic guidelines

In view of the favorable trajectory of the pandemic in North Dakota over the past few months, UND has come out with new guidelines that will become effective on June 1, 2021. In multiple discussions with President Armacost and the leadership of UND, it became clear to us that special consideration should be given to those programs such as those at the SMHS that often deal directly with vulnerable populations such as elderly patients, some of whom are at even higher risk due to concomitant conditions that may negatively impact their immune status. For example, I now have returned to seeing patients in the cardiology clinic, and I certainly don’t want to unintentionally put their health at risk by potentially transmitting the virus related to my teaching or administrative responsibilities at the School. There are many others who through their clinical or teaching efforts come in contact with vulnerable patients. Accordingly, after considerable discussion, we have developed pandemic-related guidelines for activities related to the School that are, in some ways, more stringent than those promulgated by UND. Our new SMHS guidelines, like those of UND, become effective on June 1, 2021. And while our new guidelines are more conservative than those of UND, they are less restrictive than many of the policies that we’ve had in place until now. I urge you to review the new guidance and ask for your compliance. It is my fervent hope that we can relax the expectations even further for the fall semester that begins in late August. Future decisions on this matter will be impacted most heavily by the subsequent course of the pandemic in our region. And not to sound like a broken record, but the best strategy to stamp down the pandemic is to get as many people vaccinated as possible.

In other news, I just received some preliminary data that are so impressive that I almost hesitate to share for fear of tempting fate. So with the important proviso that these data are only for the first three quarters of the current academic year, meaning things could change in this last quarter, I am overjoyed to indicate that the School’s sponsored funding through grants and contacts from external agencies (most commonly the federal government) is up 31 percent compared with the prior four years! Most of this funding goes to support research, and the rest for service programs for the citizens of North Dakota. Assuming that the data hold up for the fourth quarter, this is an amazing achievement, thanks to the efforts of faculty and staff at the School. Well done!

Finally, I hope that you will join me in pausing for at least a moment on Monday to remember and honor all of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to America. Memorial Day has taken on added significance to me in the years since I served in the military. Although I only served for two years as part of an obligation that many fellow physicians in training incurred, that relatively short time of service impressed on me the realization that we truly do owe our freedom to the dedication and sacrifices of many who otherwise are nameless and unknown to us. Let’s band together on Monday to remember and celebrate their dedication and service.

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