For Your Health
For Your Health

News from the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences

From the Dean: Masking and accreditation and Commencement, oh my!

Given the current apparent transition of COVID-19 in our region from a pandemic to an endemic situation (meaning that while COVD-19 has not disappeared, it no longer is associated with widespread, rapid, and potentially debilitating community spread), it would appear to be an appropriate time to further modify the School’s pandemic mitigation policy. To this point, we have required mask wearing in our buildings and at School events since the beginning of the pandemic, even following the relaxation of mask requirements in the community and throughout the rest of the UND campus. This has been, largely, because many of our faculty and especially students are in contact with vulnerable patient populations (often in the clinic or hospital setting). However, given the current low level of community spread in our region and the encouraging trend of decreasing hospital occupancy due to COVID-19, it seems appropriate to reconsider our current policy. After thorough internal discussions by our leadership team, in coordination with UND and public health officials, we will be relaxing our mask requirement as of this Sunday, May 1, 2022. Here are the important components of the School’s revised policy:

  • The UND SMHS will no longer require masks or other pandemic mitigation procedures in our buildings or during sanctioned activities as of May 1, 2022.
  • Graduation and other events will not require masks, and food/beverages will be allowed (subject to standard UND policies re: alcohol, safety precautions, etc.).
  • Notwithstanding the elimination of a requirement for masks, SMHS leadership still welcomes and encourages/supports mask use in buildings and for group events.
  • All participants at graduation and other events are strongly encouraged to self-test for COVID-19 prior to the event, and to not attend if positive or if the individual has any suggestive symptoms, regardless of test results. For those who want them, test kits are available at no cost outside of Room E468 in the UND SMHS building on the Grand Forks campus, or through the regional campus deans’ offices in Fargo, Bismarck, and Minot.
  • The virus has proven how unpredictable it can be. Accordingly, this policy update is subject to further modification in the future if conditions warrant further changes.

I know that you join me in hoping that a further revision of this policy will not be required in the future due to a deteriorating COVID-19 picture. As a reminder, the single most important way you can help keep the virus at bay is to get vaccinated/boosted and to use common sense in encounters with others. So, regardless of what the FAA says about masks in airports and on planes, I still plan on wearing my mask when traveling. Since I’m fully vaccinated and boosted (as is my wife), I might take my mask off once the airplane reaches altitude, since the air filters on jet airliners have been demonstrated to be highly efficient and effective in limiting the spread of viruses. But I certainly plan to wear my mask for the indefinite future in crowded venues like airports.

On another note of moving forward, the accreditation survey team looking at our medical education program visited us virtually from Monday to Wednesday of this week. The last meeting was a sign-off by the team with UND President Armacost and me. While the visit seemed to go satisfactorily from our standpoint, we will remain in suspense until we get the official findings this October following the fall meeting of the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME). Half a year certainly is a long time to wait, but I appreciate the fact that the LCME is deliberative, careful, and thoughtful in its approach.

I want to again thank the many people who have worked so hard on this project, especially Dr. Steve Tinguely, our Chief Medical Accreditation Officer, and Sheila Bosh, our Accreditation Officer. It would be hard for me to estimate how many hundreds of hours were devoted by the many people involved in preparing for this visit, but a very important point to realize is that those efforts were not just to ensure a check mark in a box next to a specific requirement, but rather were deliberate efforts to improve the way we do things and thus make the School a better place for medical education. I am confident that the SMHS has an even more impressive medical curriculum thanks to all the preparatory work the faculty, staff, and students did prior to the LCME visit. Well done, everyone, and many thanks – especially from our medical students!

Speaking of medical students, we’re just days away from the graduation of our Class of 2022. While Commencement for many of our programs is Saturday, May 14, our fourth-year MD students graduate on Saturday, May 7. And other graduation-related events will occur even before that.

I always look forward to MD Commencement, which this year will be held at the Chester Fritz Auditorium at 2:30 p.m. on May 7. The ceremony will be streamed on one or more of our social media platforms.

Likewise, our many health sciences programs will host graduation events independent of UND’s Commencement. A list of these events can be found further down in this newsletter.

As with the past few years, this entire class deserves our thanks and respect for making it to the finish line in spite of a global pandemic that has almost completely upended both higher education and the provision of healthcare. Excellent work and we’re all excited to see the health providers you become.

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