From the Dean: Happy holidays!

On Wednesday we held our annual Holiday Party, and as with last year, it was a virtual event. But unlike last year the attendance was modest and down from last year. We suspect that this modest turnout was a reflection of our “pandemic/virtual meeting fatigue” and, interestingly enough, may have been a demonstration of one of the concepts I discussed in my introductory remarks at the party. I reflected on the status of the School and how our performance in 2021 was both positive and “negative” at the same time. In fact, I quoted the famous opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’s novel A Tale of Two Cities that begins “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” So, too, with activities at the School – the faculty, staff, and students are doing an outstanding job in our missions of education, discovery, and service. This most recent fiscal year, for example, saw a record amount of external funding dollars come into the School for research and other scholarly or pedagogical activity. On the other hand, we’ve all had it with the pandemic and its associated negative impact on our lives, interactions, and emotions, all of which have had an effect on our School.

So the party was a mixture of celebration and excitement about the holiday season tempered by concern about the pandemic and what the future may hold. That said, two developments on the positive side – both of which should play out early next year – are the development of antiviral drugs by two pharmaceutical companies and the greater availability of home testing for the virus. Both of these should help blunt the impact of the new variant, even though its high degree of infectivity certainly is a major concern going forward. For the present, the best protection by far is to be triple vaccinated, supplemented by the time-honored mitigation protocols including masking, handwashing, and avoiding large gatherings indoors.

I do think it is reasonable to expect that the next holiday season will be substantially better than this one, from the standpoint of the pandemic; but there still is much we don’t know and still have to learn about the virus.

As activities wind down some at the SMHS and the semester comes to a close and people focus on the holidays, I hope that you will have some time to share with your friends and family, as difficult as that may be during the pandemic. In light of that, my next column will be on Jan. 7, 2022. Susan joins me in wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season and best wishes in the New Year!

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