At last, light at end of COVID tunnel

In UND’s Faculty and Staff Town Hall on March 9, vaccines and going ‘back to normal’ were big topics

 

Editor’s note: President Andy Armacost and other UND leaders held a Faculty/Staff Town Hall meeting on March 9. Much of the discussion centered around vaccine availability and how that will help campus return to more normal operations by next fall.
A lightly edited transcript follows.

Andy Armacost

Andy Armacost, UND president: I still see people filtering in. But let me begin anyway, and thank you all for joining us today.

And as we get ready for a bit of a respite over Spring Break, we wanted to pull everyone together to answer any questions that you have, and to give updates on important goings-on.

If you think about it, this has been nearly one year since we shut down. I think we’ll get some reflections from Vice President Jed Shivers on all that’s happened on our campus community, and really recognizing the hard work of so many to keep things going.

The first point I wanted to make today is there are opportunities to get vaccinated. You’ll hear more about that during today’s conversation, so please take advantage of all those opportunities.

In addition to the County Health Officers Distribution Program, I know that Thrifty White Pharmacy is also maintaining an active list.

The primary goal is to use every dose that comes to Grand Forks as quickly as possible. So, I think you’ll have opportunities very soon to be vaccinated; and I believe – and you’ll hear more – that we’re now on to Phase 1C, the priority that is good for all of us, because faculty and staff are included and affiliates are included in 1C.

Our plan is to return to normal operations in the fall semester, so prepare your classes and your activities accordingly.

Our students who come to our campus, of course, expect that great human interaction that makes our UND education so valuable. And I know that many of the lessons learned from COVID might impact how you exploit technology to enhance and not detract from your courses.

For commencement, that we’ve had some discussion there. We’re playing it safe and offering our ceremonies virtually. Several programs, though, including law and medicine, will hold student-only ceremonies in person with appropriate distancing, and with the family members and friends joining by a distance.

Finally, I wanted to conclude my comments in these opening comments in honor of Women’s History Month. We should always recognize our first graduating class of six women and two men.

And most notably, Dr. Cora Smith King was the first woman to receive a medical license in the state of North Dakota and was a fierce advocate for women. She was part of that first graduating class here at UND.

And so now, let me turn my microphone over to Vice President for Finance and Operations Jed Shivers. Jed?

Jed Shivers

Jed Shivers, vice president for finance & operations: Thank you, President Armacost. Hi, I’m Jed Shivers. I’m the VP for finance and operations and also have been sort of the lead person of the Pandemic Planning Group.

You know, we were just talking, just before we went live here, about how it’s been 51 weeks since the campus shut down. It’s actually hard to imagine that almost a year ago, on the 17th or so, we said, “OK, everybody go home.”

And you know, as you think about where we are, it’s worth reflecting on those 51 weeks where we were faced with a pandemic, the scope and size of which I don’t think people really could have imagined; and that the power of American and worldwide biomedical research was put into play to generate a vaccine, which was by standards of any kind of vaccine development, I think, remarkably successful.

Now that vaccine is reaching us in large numbers, and it has the power to really transform the way in which we face the virus; and our numbers start to show that.

As you may know, we meet right now about three times a week; we used to meet five times a week, our Pandemic Planning Group, and we look at the numbers all the time, and there’s a big pyramid shape.

That pyramid really topped off in the November and December timeframe, when things are at their worst.

Now, in March, we’re way, way down below where we were.

But we’re not done yet. And that’s something that we have to be mindful of. We need to get people vaccinated, those who wish to do so. There’s capacity for you to get vaccinated, and we’re going to talk about that in a minute.

And we need to keep our eyes open, because as we may hear from Dr. Wynne and others, there are variants. We’re not totally out of the woods yet, but we definitely seem to be emerging.

And so far, our statistics bear that out.

So it’s very important, as we all wish for perfection and immediacy, and “Let’s go!” and all that: We’re not quite done yet, but also just keep reminding yourself where we’ve been. It’s quite a remarkable transformation.

If you’re a student of history, and you look back 100 years ago to the great flu pandemic where people were basically helpless and this thing had to burn itself out, it’s really a remarkable story. So let’s try and keep that in mind. That’s my personal opinion.

So, let’s get on to some questions. And please do submit your questions through the Q&A.

I am going to direct some questions that have come from you, the viewers, and others, from both faculty and staff who submitted questions prior to the meeting.

We’re going to get started with those, and then we’ll move on to questions that you’re asking contemporaneously.

So, first question is, I think, a good one that people are really wondering about, and that is, when and where can people get vaccinated?

And for that, I’m going to turn to Jess Doty. Jess, would you like to comment?

Jessica Doty

Jessica Doty, director of Student Health: Yes, it’s always good to start with a little bit of good news.

Just recently, Grand Forks has opened up to all tiers of the Phase 1C priority groups for the vaccine. And the good news is, that includes faculty, staff and affiliates from the University of North Dakota.

So, each of us have the opportunity to get the vaccine here within our community.

I’d advise you to go to our UND COVID webpage. There’s instructions on calling the Altru hotline to get a vaccine; you can use the MyChart to access the vaccine, or Thrifty White (Pharmacy) has the vaccine right here in our community.

And I think this is really good news, because the allocation should be able to support a large group of our population to be vaccinated.

So the time is now. I’d urge you to call when you get a chance. And it’s I think that’s the best way to start this this Town Hall today.

Jed Shivers: And I do have a slight trick question here. So I managed to get vaccinated today; waited my turn and got vaccinated through Thrifty White, which was very nice.

But I looked over the weekend. And that’s when a whole bunch of places opened up. Do we have any thoughts on whether there are certain days of the week that are better to look, and then they sort of wind down as those get scheduled, the number of appointments get fewer?

Anybody have any thoughts on that? It’s kind of a trick question, but maybe one worth asking.

Jessica Doty: I can take a little bit of that, Jed, and if others have something to add in.

I know that the state allocations come early in the week and are allocated early in in the weekend. So I would say that calling early is good.

I know that the hotline is available nearly seven days a week, most of the time, so give it a call, and the (Altru) MyChart is available 24/7.

But early in the week is where we tend to see the vaccines getting allocated out. And the goal is set by our state that we want to get all the vaccine allocations that are delivered in a week – we want them in the arms by the end of the week.

I know that Public Health is doing two large events, typically on Wednesdays and Saturdays. But they are adding more events as more allocations come in.

So I guess that’s where I would advise that “early on” is better. But I just think calling is probably the ultimate best answer.

Jed Shivers: Thanks, Jess. So, this is a real example of “the early bird catches the worm,” and it’s very worthwhile to get on the websites, make sure that you’re registered, fill out the form and get your vaccine, if you are so inclined.

My next set of questions, I’m going to turn to a combination of Dr. Josh Wynne and Rosy Dub. For Josh: could you comment on where you think we are in the process of this pandemic, along the lines of what I was talking about earlier, as far as being not totally out of the woods yet? Where do you think we are at this point?

Joshua Wynne

Dr. Joshua Wynne, vice president for health affairs and dean of the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences: Thanks, Jed. And good afternoon, everyone.

I think that we can see the clearing on the horizon. But we should not get complacent, and I agree with the way you said it.

When I’ve talked to the State Board of Higher Education, and the Task Force that the University System has, I’ve used a traffic light analogy for what we should be doing over the spring, summer and fall semesters.

And what I’ve suggested is as far as letting down our protective measures: it’s a red light for this semester, the spring semester; a yellow caution light for the summer; and a green light for a new normal for the fall semester.

I think that’s the approach we should take. Until we get more people vaccinated over the next couple of months, I really think we should be cautious for what we do until the end of this semester.

The summer semester will be one of transition, I predict, where we’re going to have a combination of some restrictive measures, but loosening on others. And I think as the president indicated, we really should be able to get back to a more normal – although it’ll be a new normal – existence come the fall semester.

What I do think we ought to be careful about is to not say, “We’re out of the woods now.” I think what I would say is, “We can see the way out of the woods, but we’re not out yet, and we still need to take some precautions.”

So that’s the way I would sum it up, Jed.

Jed Shivers: Thank you. Now, let me transition – sort of staying with this theme for a minute – with both you, Josh, and with Rosy: where do we see the ongoing efforts to continue to do testing for potential positive cases, both in terms of PCR and Binax (methods of COVID testing)?

Keep in mind, we really are an agent of the state in this matter. We work with the state. They’re the folks who were providing the tests. And we’re the folks, in conjunction with others, who administer those tests.

So where do you see us going at this point?

Rosy Dub

Rosy Dub, director, UND’s COVID clinical response: I can start with that. I’m Rosy Dub, UND director of the COVID clinical response.

We have been meeting, reflecting on what Dr. Wynne said, anticipating going into the caution of the yellow area. We have been meeting to determine how we and when we make transitions to our testing events.

As you know, we’ve been doing mass surveillance testing events since the start of the school year. We definitely are seeing decreases in the numbers of people coming for testing, as well as the decreased positivity rate.

We do plan to make some changes on our testing volume, particularly with the PCR events.

Keep in mind, what we’re looking at now is two incubation cycles for COVID following Spring Break. We’re thinking that if we can keep our positivity rate down for four weeks following Spring Break, we feel pretty confident about greatly reducing the amount of testing that would be necessary for campus, bearing in mind that this next week we have National Collegiate Hockey Conference (championships), we have Spring Break, we have the variants that are still circulating and still increasing.

We have all of the state high school tournaments going on also.

So, we are we are not going to be complacent. We need to be cautious in our next few weeks to see where what happens to our state in general.

But yes, we are looking at decreasing that. We are doing Binax, the rapid antigen testing, across campus. And that has not been a rapid uptick; however, it does provide immediate or 15- to 30-minute results for people who are interested in screenings, particularly if they have symptoms.

We will be reevaluating all of those strategies every two weeks to see where we make adjustments and cut down.

We are definitely seeing light at the end of the tunnel. And with increased vaccination, those needs should be reduced.

Joshua Wynne: The one thing that I might add to what was said by Rosy – and she covered it beautifully, I think – is that for those of you who are or will be getting vaccinated in the near future, we think that once you’re beyond the two-week period following your last dose (or your first dose, if it’s the Johnson and Johnson), for routine surveillance, we would not recommend testing. That is no longer required or suggested.

However, if someone who has been vaccinated has symptoms, that’s different. Then you need to have appropriate follow-up.

But for people who’ve been vaccinated and are now two weeks out, there’s pretty good, – not conclusive, but pretty good – scientific data, that you not only are at very low risk of getting the disease, but also very low risk of transmitting it to someone else.

So there we do not recommend routine – or we will not, if going forward – be recommending routine testing once you’re successfully vaccinated.

So that’s one thing that will reduce some of the load on the testing apparatus. And actually, as more of us get vaccinated, it’ll reduce it even more.

So I agree with Rosy that the necessity for testing will decrease in the future.

Again, we’re talking about for asymptomatic individuals where we’re doing just routine sort of testing. That is likely to continue to decrease.

I agree with Rosy as well, though, we are concerned about the potential for an uptick, particularly after Spring Break, with athletic events, and so forth.

Again, when we have people together, that’s where there’s the real breeding ground for the viral spread, especially when it’s indoors. Outdoors makes a really big difference in reducing the risk.

Jed Shivers: I’m so glad that you mentioned Spring Break, because as we know, people do head to Florida, and that’s a hotbed of viral variants right now. So if we’re looking and kind of seeing how we’re doing post-Spring Break, how many weeks do you think we would need to wait until we see whether or not we have an uptick as a function of Spring Break travel?

Jed Shivers: I’m so glad you mentioned Spring Break because I think, as we know, people do go to Florida and that’s a hotbed of viral variance right now. So if we’re looking and seeing how we’re doing post-Spring Break, how many weeks would we need to wait to see whether we have an uptick as a function of Spring Break?

Rosy Dub: What’s usually recommended is two incubation cycles. I’m really looking hard at where we’re sitting by April 15. If we are carrying well by then, I think we can take a sigh of relief. I would add, though, that COVID will likely never go away, and there will always be a need for testing of symptomatic people. With that, we’ll hopefully get to the point where it become a regular test that people if they’re symptomatic – if you’re a student – you go to Student Health and be tested. If you’re a faculty or staff employee, you’d be going to your healthcare provider for testing. Testing won’t go entirely away, but surveillance for mass testing probably will.

Joshua Wynne: If I could add one thing to what Rosy just said because it’s very important, it is extremely unlikely that COVID is going to disappear in the future, even when we get to herd immunity or group immunity. What group immunity prevents is the very rapid spread of the disease where you have the exponential increase in the number of cases. Once we get to the place where through natural infection or vaccination, that somewhere around 75 or 80 or 85 percent of the population are protected, you still can have individuals transmitting it to another individual. So as Rosy said, it’s probably not going to disappear. But hopefully what will disappear is the risk for this rapid-fire increase in the number of cases that can overwhelm healthcare systems. Hopefully, that will not occur, but random cases will continue to occur in the future. It’s unlikely that it’s simply going to disappear. Through mutations it could, but probably won’t. But what we hope will not occur in the future is what we’ve been through in the past.

Jed Shivers: So, good marker: Traditional tax day, April 15. Keep that in mind. We’ll really be seeing about where we are. We’ll be keeping on that data, I can assure you. Let’s move into some of the questions people have asked. My first question is for Vice President Halgren: What is the status for the Big Event this year? Many off-campus groups are making inquiries about how to reach student groups as in the past.

Cara Halgren

Cara Halgren, vice president for student affairs & diversity: I’m Cara Halgren. I serve as vice president for student affairs and diversity. If you’re familiar with the Big Event, you know it’s an absolutely great event that happens every spring. My colleagues have just informed me that they’re in the process of looking at a way to provide the event so that it is COVID safe. You can look for more information to come on that. My understanding is that they’re looking at doing outside activities only as a way to do this. We appreciate the question because it’s become a very time-honored tradition of the campus. I know there are a lot of people who look forward to not only participating, but also to the benefits of what the group does.

Jed Shivers: One of the themes of questions has been: what are we going to look like in the fall? I think people are really quite interested in that. Are we going to have social distancing in the fall? Are we going to have mask wearing in the fall? Why don’t I start with President Armacost and let you lead the way in answering that question and then turn to Provost Storrs.

President Armacost: My goal and my hope is to have an on-campus life that resembles – to the greatest degree possible – life that was on campus in the fall of 2019. This means classes meeting routinely with a full set of students, in person, but likely with masks as well, just as an added safety precaution. In addition, events on campus I would anticipate returning to normal – sporting events and so forth. And people attending those sporting events as has been done in the past. I know that the School of Medicine & Health Sciences has drafted a set of guidelines internal for the school of medicine. That gives some great insights into what we would probably look for on campus as well in terms of a gentle transition over the summer, moving into the fall. Furthermore, there’s a great set of subcommittees called reconstitution committees that are piecing together all the logistics of how work will happen on campus with the different work units. There’s a lot of work happening there.

Debbie Storrs

Debbie Storrs, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs: I know the deans have been working with their departments and their college offices to develop their back-to-campus work plans. Those will be submitted to me and then HR. They’re working on that. As the president said, we’re looking for as normal as fall semester as possible. I’ve asked the faculty to work with their department chairs and their deans to clarify how you’re offering your courses in the fall. I encourage you to go and look at that. Currently, we still have a number of courses that haven’t made that adjustment in terms of how they’re offering courses in the fall. Remember, students are starting to look at Campus Connection to see what course are available and how they’ll be delivered. Advising is under way, but registration starts April 5 for both summer and fall. We really need the faculty to work with the department chairs to clarify how they’re going to be offering those courses. I imagine that our on-campus programs will be offering their courses face to face. Online courses will be offering their courses online. We have spent a lot of energy on the part of faculty to develop a hybrid option. If faculty are interested in giving students a choice of whether to attend face-to-face or online, you could certainly have that discussion with your department chair and continue to provide that as a hybrid option. The assumption, of course, is that if it’s a hybrid option and it’s an on-campus program, you’ve got faculty members in the classroom and you’re giving students the choice. That’s up to the faculty. You certainly don’t have to do that. We’ve put a lot of energy into that model and that might be something that you want to provide students. It would provide more flexibility to them.

President Armacost: The number-one thing we can each do to prepare for that return to the fall is to get our vaccinations. Let me throw it back over to Josh for additional comments.

Joshua Wynne: Thank you President Armacost. I can see there was a question about what I meant by the “new normal.” What I mean is that I think there are things we have learned from this pandemic that actually are positive. Provost Storrs was talking about some of the hybrid approaches. We’ve learned a lot about how to do things virtually. I don’t think we should throw away all the lessons that we learned. I’ll give you a very practical example of what we’re looking at in the School of Medicine & Health Sciences. We’ve had a bit of a challenges to get other professors to come be visiting professors here. What happens if we do that virtually? Instead of them having to spend two days traveling and going back and forth, we invite them for an hour virtually. I would say that’s a new normal that’s an improvement over what we had in the past if we can get a wide variety of outside speakers to “attend” our campus, but do it virtually. That’s part of the new normal, but I think there are other things on the safety side we will continue. It would be silly to forget that we need to wash our hands frequently. I’m a clinician. I see patients and I’m washing my hands all the time, but I would suggest all of you probably need to do that even more when you’re in public places like your building and so forth. I think the new normal will allow us to be in person much more, but I do think we should remember some of the lessons learned, both in education as well as personal hygiene. That will be important going forward.

Jed Shivers: I want to complete the triad of the picture here. Vice President Halgren, can you paint a picture from a student life perspective – housing, dining, student activities. What do you think the fall semester is going to look like?

Cara Halgren: I’m really excited. I know some of my colleagues here on the panel can jump in if they want to do so. We’re planning to have residence halls where people are planning to have the option of having roommates again. We are really excited about that. We know that students are looking forward to that, especially some of the students looking forward to joining us for the first time on campus in fall. This is a big deal to be able to go back to that scenario. Dining, housing, I think we’re going to have similar things that we’ve had previously. Campus events, as Dr. Armacost said previously, we are going back to providing what we see as those connecting kinds of experiences that students like and we are known for. We’re really excited about doing that this fall. We’re in the heart of the planning process right now.

Jed Shivers: For the reconstitution committee I’m going to turn to Associate Vice President for Human Resources Peggy Varberg. Peggy, what are the main themes the reconstitution committee has been discussing? Many of the questions submitted prior to the meeting and some we’re seeing now really relate to whether people can continue to work from home. If so, how much? What kind of flexibility do we have? And where is this decision likely to get made?

Peggy Varberg

Peggy Varberg, associate vice president for human resources: I am part of the reconstitution planning group. We’ve been meeting for the last month or so. We’re tasked with making sure all the moving parts we need to think about in moving toward a more open campus are moving that way. Reconstitution really means to build something up. That’s what we’re working on. We’re working on phasing down and away from what the pandemic world looks like on campus and moving toward a more open community at UND. More normal or a new normal, whatever that may be.

Some of the areas we discuss are who’s going to remain remote and who isn’t. Those aren’t part of our decisions, but they’re tasked within each division. Each of the vice presidents is working with the leadership in their areas. They’re talking with employees to decide what their staffing patterns look like as we move back into August. It may not look completely the same. Some areas may provide specific services differently, in part because of lessons learned the past year that we’ve been working largely remote. I believe there will be a significant base of employees who will be back on campus full or in a hybrid manner – maybe one or two days off campus. As I start to see plans come in and ideas discuss, I see a lot of people moving back toward campus.

I think it’s really up to each of the areas to decide what a position looks like, what is its service component or customer component. Is it customer face-to-face physical facing? Is there work that can continue to be done remotely? I have to say that this last year has been super challenging for every employee, no matter what their role I on or off campus. I have been very proud and very impressed by all the work that’s been done, whether folks are on campus or remote. I’m proud to be part of this group. I see that these decisions are being thoughtfully made.

There are a lot of moving parts, physical issues. Maybe there are accommodation we need to look at and be concerned with. There are positions at the university who could continue to work remotely simply because they don’t face a customer physically during the course of their responsibilities. These are some of the things we’re looking at, in addition to whether some areas have barriers to coming back on campus. Are there physical issues? We’re walking though buildings and looking to see if there are any issues with them. Are there pipes broken? Are there things not working properly? Does IT have what they need? Do departments have what they need from IT? Do we have the power structure to bring all of this technology back on to campus again?

We’re asking folks to think in a phased process, so that we’re all not walking back in August 1 or August 16 and turning the lights back on. We’re phasing from now until early August to make sure we have time, that there aren’t any barriers and everything is I fixed to make sure it’s working well before we come back to campus fully with students and so forth. If you have any questions about whether your position can be remote, speak with your supervisor. Have those dialogues. There’s a lot of great work going on around campus remotely, and folks who have been here from Day 1 and have never left. I’m very appreciative of all the work that’s being done.

Jed Shivers: Thanks Peggy, I’m going to take us away for a moment from COVID world, if I may, and ask people questions in a different direction, but it’s about our campus life. First question will be for President Armacost. Recent media reports detailed allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination against one of UND’s interns in the North Dakota Legislative Assembly and one of UND’s departments. What steps are being taken to protect all of our students both on campus and during externships against sexual harassment, discrimination and other problems?

President Armacost: Thanks Jed. Wonderful question that’s gotten a lot of media attention, especially given the outcome of the House’s decision to expel one member from its midst. UND pledges its support to all of our students, faculty and staff no matter where they are. In the case of the sexual harassment that happened at the Capitol, there are a lot of conversations happening between us and the director of the legislative counsel in Bismarck. In addition, I met with him personally, yesterday, to say thanks for the support he provided to all of our interns, not just the ones affected by this. My goal as the president is to make sure that the umbrella of support is there for all of our students, regardless of whether they’re on-campus or elsewhere.

We of course have strong Title IX procedures. So, if in the course of their programs, students are impacted by sexual harassment or sexual violence, they have an avenue to seek immediate redress and support services through counseling and other activities. But to have the process investigating and resolving the allegations of sexual harassment or sexual violence, for employees – for our faculty and staff members – we have great EO procedures as well that look out for our members. Peggy Varberg might have additional thoughts and specifics about process considerations, but just know from the upper levels of administration, we will take care of any allegations of sexual harassment or sexual violence quickly. And as you saw in the media reports, I spoke out and addressed this directly with the House leadership in Bismarck.

Jed Shivers: I think sort of in relation to this theme, but really about reaching out to our campus – we all know about the efforts being made to create a more diverse and inclusive campus. We have a specific question, which I’ll direct to Provost Storrs: Would you please share the timeline for Colleges and departments to begin holding discussions to implement the recommendations made by the UND Task Force on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion?

Debbie Storrs: Thanks Jed. Yes, the College deans have reviewed those recommendations. Many of them are in different places in terms of conversations with chairs and faculty. Those recommendations are recommendations, so the deans as academic leaders really need to wrestle with those. They also are looking at various DEI initiatives in their own Schools and Colleges, and then Assistant Vice Provost for Inclusion and Equity Tamba-Kuii Bailey has been meeting or will be meeting with each of the deans just to have a conversation relative to the recommendations, to provide support and feedback and learn more about what the deans are doing. Tamba-Kuii is also working with Cara Halgren and others to focus on the diversity statement that was one of the recommendations that came out of the Task Force, and so Dr. Bailey is working on that this semester. So if faculty have questions, they should check in with their chairs and deans, because there are discussions happening.

Jed Shivers: Thank you Provost Storrs. Now, coming back to the theme of picturing the fall, here is a question for Vice President Meloney Linder: Is there a plan of a public release about a typical Fall 2021 semester to give students and parents reassurance about being in-person. I think people really want to come back, they want to be in-person and have as normal of an educational experience as they can. Would you comment on that, please, Meloney?

Meloney Linder

Meloney Linder, vice president for marketing & communications: Sure, I’m happy to. I’m Meloney Linder, vice president for marketing and communications. Yes, there will be a press release, but that’s not all. As many of you know that throughout the pandemic we’ve had ongoing communication, whether it has been through town halls like we’re having today. We’ll be having another one with our students and parents tonight. But we send regular updates whether it’s through the student newsletter, parent newsletter, social media. And myself, Dave Dodds, our director of communications, and also President Armacost – we have weekly, sometimes two meetings a week with local media, specifically the Grand Forks Herald, giving them updates on what’s happening on campus.

As we gather more information, things that have been discussed here today — like what are classes going to look like in the fall — we’ll be sharing that information when we have a better understanding of the safety protocols that need to be in place. Masks or no masks, those are the questions that we get on a regular basis. That will be shared as well. But the plan is not just to do one press release, but to have a continuous communication not only through the spring semester, but throughout the summer leading up to the start of the fall semester.

Jed Shivers: Thank you. We’ve been able to divert ourselves, talking about the fall and the important, strategic aspects of diversity and inclusion, but we can’t really escape more questions about vaccination. So, I’m going to direct some questions to Vice President Dr. Joshua Wynne and to Jess Doty and to Rosy Dub so, if you all could be prepared to comment.

One question that comes up fairly frequently is how long are vaccines good for? What do we know? And is there any real differential in terms of the efficacy of the vaccines? And perhaps you can comment on not only the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, but also the upcoming Johnson & Johnson one. And talk a little bit about the prevention of serious illness or hospitalization versus any sort of symptoms involved. Josh, would you mind starting this conversation off?

Joshua Wynne: Sure Jed, and I’ll start off with the last part of the question you asked about. Which is, you know, you hear a difference between the Pfizer and Moderna at 95 and 94 percent “efficacy” and a somewhat lower number for J&J. But remember what the endpoint of that was, which just as you say is symptomatic illness. Well, there is mild symptomatic illness and severe symptomatic illness. And I think what’s really important to all of us is to not get really ill.

I’ve looked at the data that are available, and to the best of my analytical ability, for all three vaccines, Pfizer, Moderna and J&J, of the thousands and thousands of people who were in the vaccine arm of the trials, there has been exactly one hospitalization and zero deaths of the people who have been vaccinated. That’s for all three vaccines. So, the bottom line is that if you’re talking about serious complications, they are extraordinarily rare with any of the three vaccines. You may get mild symptoms if you get COVID, despite the vaccine, but it’s unlikely you’ll get severe symptoms. So when I’m asked the question: which of the vaccines should I take when my turn comes? My answer is: whichever one is available first. You want to take the first vaccine available, and don’t worry about the manufacturer, because they are all extremely effective in preventing serious complications.

As far as the duration of the benefit, the full answer is that we really don’t know for sure. What I can tell you though is that based on data looking at immune responses, it appears to remain quite robust for at least six months. We don’t really know longer, and the pharmaceutical companies are studying that.

Would I believe it’s entirely possible that all of us who get vaccinated might need a booster somewhere down the line? Yes. I think that’s a real possibility. Is it likely to be a worrisome issue over the next six months or so? I don’t think so, based on the available data, even with the viral variants that are appearing. We’re reasonably sure that there is going to be robust protection, even with some of the variants. The bottom line is to get vaccinated at the earliest opportunity with whatever vaccine is available, because the protection is probably going to be pretty good for the foreseeable future. For 2022, might we need a booster? Yeah. I think that’s not unreasonable to think might be possible. But for 2021, get vaccinated and feel comfortable that you will be protected against severe disease.

Jed Shivers: Thanks. Rosy or Jess, do you anything you want to add to that?

Rosy Dub: I can’t wait to give a cheerful “Get vaccinated!” following Dr. Wynne’s comments. This just changed last evening – we had understood that people who were fully vaccinated were protected for up to 90 days after last vaccination, but as of yesterday the CDC changed that without a timeline. Again, supporting what Dr. Wynne said, the great part is that if you get vaccinated, you do not have to quarantine if you come in close contact with someone who is positive. Not just for 90 days, but for an extended period of time. The longer we go, the longer they’ll know how long the protection lasts, but yes we are looking at months of protection. What a great incentive to get vaccinated is what I would push on that.

Joshua Wynne: The only thing I’d add, Rosy, you didn’t quite say this. Let me just add it: you don’t need to quarantine unless you develop symptoms. If you’re symptomatic, following a contact, that’s different.

Rosy Dub: Thank you, Dr. Wynne, you’re correct.

Jed Shivers: Jess, anything to add to this conversation?

Jessica Doty: Yes, I’m going to add a piece that I should have mentioned at the beginning. The reason that UND is included as an essential employee and is able to get the vaccine in Phase 1C, I think it’s important for people to know that under the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), university educators and staff are listed as essential employees. So that’s how that’s opened up that UND employees are eligible now in Phase 1C. Which goes to support Dr. Wynne’s notion of, “If this is our first opportunity to get the vaccine, now is the time.” It’s open for UND employees through that CISA designation.

There are lots of questions on the Q&A about whether student employees are included in that. I would say yes, if they are working for the University and aiding in the operations of the University, of course they should be qualified. So, yes, I know GAs and other student employees that are working on our campus would be considered eligible now in Phase 1C that has opened up in our community. I just want to add that, and encourage that the best vaccine is the first vaccine available and for many of us it is available now.

Jed Shivers: And, after all, our affiliates are also considered part of the campus, and they’re being treated the same way that many of us are being treated, as far as eligibility for the vaccine.

Jed Shivers: So, here’s an interesting one. And, I’m not exactly sure who should respond to this. Probably, it is going to be the same trio that we just talked with. But, it’s an interesting thing. So people are always thinking ahead and I think that’s the wonderful thing about our campus. People really start to think through and they think through the primary effects and the secondary effects of anything.

So, there’s a theme of questions, which is, ‘What do I do if I’ve been vaccinated and someone else hasn’t been and they are working with me?’ That is one variance of the question.  Another question is, ‘Will we publish information about the proportion of students who come to UND in the fall and are vaccinated?’ And it’s an interesting question. And, I guess, I’d like to start off by sort of asking a provocative question to complement those. And that would be, ‘If you’re vaccinated and you take reasonable care of yourself, do you care who else has been vaccinated?’ So let me turn to once again to Dr. Wynne, and to Rosy and to Jess – what are your reactions to these questions? They’re absolutely legitimate questions that I think things that need to be addressed, as we start to work through the activities of daily living and of coming back to work, and being involved with what will almost by definition be a mixture of people who have and who have not been vaccinated.

Joshua Wynne: Let me start off with a couple of things, and then have my colleagues expand on it. So the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, just this week – yesterday, I guess – came out with new guidelines about the very thing you’re talking about: if someone’s vaccinated, what should they do. And the interesting part of what they came out with was what wasn’t said. So for instance, for travel, there’s no change in the CDC guidelines for someone who’s been vaccinated. For more medium or large events, there’s no change in what the CDC has recommended before. For going outside of your own bubble, there’s no major change in the CDC guidelines.

What the CDC did change was for those of us who are parents and grandparents is the following when interacting with un-vaccinated people. So, let’s say my wife and I, both being healthcare providers, have been vaccinated. The CDC guideline says it’s now fine to interact with a single household, that is our daughter and son-in-law and their kids, our grandkids, even though they’re not vaccinated. We can now visit with them without a mask and without physical distancing. But for multi-family get-togethers, say they want to invite their neighbors over, then you have to go back to the old guidelines. So, I would say that for a vaccinated person, unless you’re dealing with a single household of an individual, at least for the foreseeable future, the guidelines have not changed at least as far as what the CDC is recommending.

There are two aspects to this, and then I’ll turn it over to my colleagues. For one is what’s the risk to the individual – the vaccinated individual – and as I’ve discussed, that risk is quite low. What we don’t know for sure yet, though, is whether the vaccinated individual can transmit the virus to others. That remains not for sure, although we’re pretty sure that the risk of doing that is pretty low. Once that’s been definitively answered then, I think, we’re going to see further loosening, if you will, of the CDC guidelines. But for now, that’s not an established fact. So, I would still urge caution. Hence my analogy to the traffic light, I think for this semester, we are still red light, as far as lighting down our guard.

Jed Shivers: Before our friends comment further, now project yourself… This is the unfair part, but I get to ask the unfair part. Project yourself into the fall and let’s just assume that, you know, North Dakota has 40-50 percent of people vaccinated and you come to work and you don’t know who’s vaccinated and who is not vaccinated, but you’ve been vaccinated, right. Should you be extremely concerned?

Joshua Wynne: I think the answer is you should not be extremely concerned on the assumption, first of all, I think that we will probably be more than 40 or 50 percent of people with either natural or vaccination-induced protection. Secondly, by the fall, we’ll know what the risk is from the variants that are circulating. But, if I had to guess, and it’s just an educated guess, I think the answer is you do not need to be overly concerned come the fall.

Jed Shivers: Thank you. Rosy and Jess, do you have any comments?

Jessica Doty: I guess my only reminder is to still be compassionate toward one another. You don’t know how people choose to get vaccinated or not. And, so, I think, that would be my only reminder to us is that people do have a choice in this and to be mindful of those personal choices that are still out there for us.

Jed Shivers: Yeah, I think that is really a point well made. You know, it’s so easy to get into judgmental behavior. And sometimes, you got to give people some grace. And one of the great things about our campus, in my opinion, is throughout the entire 51 weeks of having gone through this, there’s been a lot of grace extended to us all.

We do have time for a couple more questions, and then we’re gonna have to wrap it up. So, here’s an interesting question,  I think for Jess: If we live in another state, can we still qualify under Phase 1-C and get this shot in the state we live in since we are planning on being back in person in the fall?

Jessica Doty: That is a great question. The main piece for us is to remember is that each state is rolling out vaccines very differently and their processes are going very differently. We’re very lucky to be in the state of North Dakota, which has done an exceptional job getting vaccines out. And, so it’s something to be proud of, from the state of North Dakota. And so we may be ahead of other states. So, if you are living in another state, I would recommend calling your public health unit and seeing where you’re at. Once again, it goes back to the best vaccine is the first vaccine available to you. If you have opportunities within your state, great. But, I can’t make any promises about where other states are or what phases they’re in. I would recommend your local health department.

Joshua Wynne: This is just one reminder that even if you are able to get the second shot in a different state, make sure it’s the same manufacturer. We don’t know what happens if you get a Pfizer shot initially, and then a Moderna shot. Iit may work fine, we just don’t know. So, stick to the same manufacturer. That’s why those cards that you get when you get vaccinated are useful, because that shows the lot number and the manufacturer. It needs to be the same manufacturer.

Rosy Dub: I’m going to give just one little tip too. We give this recommendation a lot of times at Student Health Services. Take a picture of your vaccine cards. Losing your vaccine card happens all the time. And, so if you take a picture of it, it’s less likely that you will lose your phone or lose that photo. That is a key piece to know as to when you got the vaccine, what type of vaccine you need. And, so, if you’re going from state to state having that information handy is is very wise.

Jed Shivers: And, if you’re wondering what your vaccine card looks like, it looks like it looks like this. It’s very handy-dandy. You can put it in your wallet, but I think taking a picture of it is a really, really good idea.

Okay, I am going to end on a fun question. But before we get there, I think there have been a couple of questions about requiring students -and really everybody – to be vaccinated. I will turn it over to President Armacost. Any thoughts on that?

President Armacost: As much as I would like to have 100 percent of our campus vaccinated – in particular for the students – there is a list of legislatively approved vaccines [that we can require], and COVID is not on that list. And currently, there’s no direction or efforts, at least that I know of, within the current legislative session to add it to the list. There was a bill proposed to eliminate the requirement for vaccinations upon a quick scan of the system earlier today. I think that bill in particular, I think it did not pass. So, at least vaccinations will remain but for now COVID does not go on to that list of required vaccinations.

Jed Shivers: Thank you. Okay, one last question. This is a fun question. And I hope you’ll allow me to ask it without thinking that I’m not taking this seriously because I’m sure you know that we take this all very seriously. So this is a question for Bill Chaves. And the question is: Can our great football coach Bubba teach us that great celebration dance after the Big South Dakota State University (losers) win, stand up and cheer UND?

Bill Chaves

Bill Chaves

Bill Chaves, athletics director: There’s no truth to the rumor that Bubba will be on Dancing with the Stars at this point. We’ve got a big game this week against Western Illinois and then another game the following week, which we all kind of know where we’re going to be that way.

Jed Shivers: Thank you, Bill. Best of luck, best of luck. So I think that’s about it for questions. And, I want to turn over last couple of minutes to President Armacost for some closing comments, and to say thank you to all the panelists, but most importantly, to all the people – well over 400 of viewers who tuned into this – and I hope it’s been a useful effort.

President Armacost: Jed, thanks for your great emceeing of this event and your directing all the questions to the right place. Let me repeat the thanks to the panelists today, for your expertise and your insights. I appreciate all you’ve done throughout this pandemic, to provide information to the campus so that we can make great decisions for the faculty, students and staff. And to all those who tuned in today, thanks for not just bearing with the pandemic but all of your efforts to deliver great education, great programs, great events, great things on our campus over the last close to one year, as Jeff pointed out up top. It’s been a long and challenging year for all of us. And thanks for hanging in there. Thanks for your grace, your sense of cooperation, the dignity and respect that you’re treating each other with. That goes a long way. Let’s keep that going. Regardless of what happens with the remaining time until the pandemic slowly – I don’t want to say fades away completely; this virus will be with us for a while. But let’s keep that sense of dignity and respect for each other all along.

And one final thing let’s hope Bubba dances this weekend and the next weekend, especially the next weekend, which is a match against North Dakota State University. Wouldn’t it be nice! Have a great day everyone. Thanks for tuning in.


Q&A: Following are questions that were asked but not answered live in the forum due to time constraints.

  • When will decisions be made regarding voluntary separation and when might staff learn of the decision?
    Most of the decisions have been made but some departments are still reviewing. Anyone who has a specific question can either ask their supervisor or email me (Peggy Varberg).
  • Thrifty White has no openings at the current time for Grand Forks.
    Keep checking the website. It is updated as vaccines come in.
  • I just answered the questionnaire in Altru’s My Chart this morning, but there was nothing to indicate that I was a UND employee and therefore part of 1C.
    Great question! UND employees are considered essential employees through the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). That is the indicator you can use to schedule your appointment.
  • How long do you have to wait if you got COVID-19 last month to get the vaccine?
    There is no listed time frame; however, you do you have 90 days of presumed immunity that will protect you for that time frame.
  • You just mentioned that UND employees are now eligible for the vaccine. That said, Altru does not list higher education employees in their list of 1C eligible individuals. Please clarify.
    UND employees are listed as essential employees under the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and therefore eligible to schedule in Phase 1C.
  • Does the 1C group includes GRA students?
    Yes, student employees working on campus would quality as essential employees in phase 1C under the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).
  • If we live in another state can we still qualify under phase 1C and get the shot in the state we live in since we are planning on being back in person in the fall?
    Each state is rolling out vaccines differently. Reaching out to your local public health department would be a great place to start if you are located outside of the state of North Dakota.
  • Do any student employees on campus qualify under 1C for the vaccine?
    Yes, UND student employees would qualify in the Phase 1C essential employee designation.
  • Those working on campus this whole time have had issues keeping in touch with those working at home due to sporadic working hours. Will those who work from home be required to work a certain schedule?
    Remote employees have established schedules that were worked out with their direct supervisors. Some did work a schedule that might have been split days, weekend days, etc. depending on their work.  We are working on a plan to communicate those schedules as needed.
  • Some of us with health co-morbidities are not able to get the vaccination, so we really appreciate all of those who have gotten the vaccine to help us get to some herd immunity.