Adapting to the shifting new normal of COVID-19
Nick Hacker, Erica Solberg, Mark Hagerott
We are extremely impressed with our students, faculty and staff and how they have approached the start of the fall semester. Testing, face coverings, plexiglass shields, and social distancing are just some of the safe practices in place at all of our institutions. Student leadership has been most helpful during this time, amplifying the message about safety measures among their peers.
The next challenge facing our students is the upcoming Labor Day holiday weekend. Dr. Deborah Birx, the Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the White House, visited North Dakota last weekend and she said lessons learned from other parts of the country clearly demonstrate how the virus quickly spreads when students travel from one community to another.
So, we are encouraging students to stay on campus this Labor Day weekend and minimize travel. Stay safe; keep in place. In addition, because young people have the propensity for being asymptomatic, this important consideration will reduce the risk of unknowingly transmitting the virus to different communities, as well as students’ families across the state. For this reason and more, we continue to highly encourage members of our campus communities to take advantage of COVID-19 testing.
Meanwhile, the North Dakota University System will continue to work closely with the North Dakota Department of Health, the National Guard, and other state leaders to keep the novel coronavirus in check. We can only succeed at this plan in partnership with our students, staff and faculty. We all want to work to keep our campuses open and we can only create that environment if we work together to keep each other safe.
Credit is due to Gov. Doug Burgum, his staff and his cabinet, who have been working tirelessly to ensure that lives and livelihoods are being protected in our state.
We are reminded of a short passage from Marie Curie who was twice awarded the Nobel Prize for her contributions to physics and chemistry: “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
Sobering words, but true-to-form from any scientist. The more we learn about any subject, the less we have to fear it. While there is certainly still apprehension and concern about COVID-19 and how it can impact people, we’ve also learned more about it over time, which can help give us more ways to take action to prevent it from spreading further deal with it.
Birx lauded our state’s testing capacity as one of the most robust in the country. We have been fortunate in being able to utilize that robust testing at our campuses to help guide our actions there. Now is our opportunity to keep the virus in check and not give it the opportunity to spread throughout our state, potentially reaching vulnerable populations.
Typically at this time of year, the North Dakota University System’s 11 public colleges and universities are dealing with the excitement generated by our fall reopening. While that excitement is certainly still here, it has been muffled by the new order of things in a world beset by the pandemic.
We have now been dealing with the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) directly for six months. It may have seemed inevitable that a surge in cases would happen with fall reopening, but that doesn’t mean that cases need to continue to go up.
We’d like to again thank all the individuals who helped us learn more about the virus and implement safety measures for the eventual reopening. The work undertaken was monumental, and it continues today at our campuses. That work will persist into the future as we understand more about the immediate and long-term effects of COVID-19.
With better methods and renewed vigor toward campus safety, we can offer the educations our students want and do so in a safe and secure environment. And, as we move forward and learn more about COVID-19, we can continue helping one another understand the changing realities of our new normal.
(Hacker is chairman of the State Board of Higher Education, Solberg is the board’s Student Member, and Hagerott, chancellor of the North Dakota University System