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Published August 11, 2021
The University of Wyoming is proceeding with a traditional fall 2021 semester while taking steps to manage COVID-19 amid an increase in cases locally and nationally.
UW’s Board of Trustees today (Wednesday) approved a fall semester plan that strongly encourages and incentivizes COVID vaccinations; will require masks indoors through at least Sept. 20 under circumstances to be communicated to the campus early next week; requires students and employees to be tested upon entry to the university; includes a mandatory education seminar on the virus; expands the current weekly sample testing program to both vaccinated and unvaccinated employees and students, with 3 percent of the population tested weekly; and provides for adjustments as circumstances change.
As approved by the trustees, the indoor mask requirement extends until at least Sept. 20. It doesn’t apply to people alone in their offices and private spaces, and there are medical exceptions. President Ed Seidel also has some discretion to consider lifting the requirement in certain circumstances. At its Sept. 15 meeting, the board will revisit the mask requirement by considering data including case numbers, testing prevalence and vaccine uptake.
“Our hope is that the indoor mask requirement will only be necessary for the start of the fall semester,” Seidel says. “We will monitor the data closely between now and when the board revisits the issue at its September meeting.”
Details about the requirements for the educational seminar and one-time testing of all students at the start of the semester will be shared in coming days.
The fall semester plan is in line with the board’s March 26 vote to “fully reopen” the university “consistent with the state and federal governments regarding COVID-19.” The fall semester will begin Aug. 23 with face-to-face classes at full capacity, along with face-to-face student engagement programs, in-person athletics experiences and the like.
“We said in March that unless there’s a dramatic, unexpected development -- such as an outbreak of some new dangerous COVID variant that is resistant to vaccines -- we’d be back fully in person this fall. We are fulfilling that commitment, which has the support of the vast majority of our students and employees,” Seidel says. “At the same time, we are responding to the uptick in cases in Albany County and the state, as well as the highly transmissible Delta variant, to help assure that we can stay in person through the semester and the academic year. And, perhaps most importantly, we are doing just about everything we can, short of a mandate, to encourage and incentivize our employees and students to be vaccinated -- to protect their individual health and that of the broader community.”
As of Monday, there are eight active cases of the virus reported by UW’s COVID-19 Hub -- five students living off campus and three employees. The total number of confirmed COVID cases among UW students and employees since the pandemic began is 2,276. The positivity rate among tests conducted under UW’s random-sample program in the past week is 1.39 percent.
The Wyoming Department of Health places Albany County in the “moderate-high transmission levels” category, for which the state health officer recommends masking for everyone indoors. That’s in concert with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recently reversed its earlier guidance that those who are vaccinated didn’t need to wear face protection.
At this stage, the university continues to highly encourage but not mandate the COVID vaccine for faculty, staff and students, in concert with a directive from Gov. Mark Gordon.
“The vaccines are proven to be highly safe and effective in preventing infection and serious illness, even for the easily transmissible Delta variant,” Seidel says. “It remains our sincere hope that all of our employees and students who are medically able will choose to be vaccinated. We intend to provide our students and employees with every opportunity to receive the vaccine, and to provide accurate information to help everyone make the best decisions for themselves.”
UW requires all faculty, staff and students who are vaccinated to report it -- to allow the university to track overall vaccination numbers. Additionally, those who report vaccinations become eligible for weekly prize drawings. For employees, a quick reference guide has been created to help report vaccinations within UW’s HCM. Students who receive their COVID-19 vaccinations should upload documentation to the Student Health Service patient portal as soon as their vaccine series is complete. This is as simple as taking a photo of your vaccination document and uploading the picture here: http://patientportal.uwyo.edu, using your regular UW user ID and password. Alternatively, students can report their vaccinations by emailing photos of their vaccination documents to Student Health at email@example.com.
As of Monday, 2,876 individual students had reported receiving at least one dose of a COVID vaccine on the Student Health Service portal -- up from 2,721 the preceding Monday (Aug. 2), and up from the 1,665 reporting before the incentive program was announced July 9.
Also as of Monday, 2,121 of UW’s 2,880 benefited employees -- 73.6 percent -- have reported receiving at least one dose of the vaccines. Adding in non-benefited employees, some of whom are students, 3,252 of UW’s 5,851 total employees -- 55.5 percent -- have reported receiving at least one dose.
“Quite frankly, the current percentages are much lower than we would like to see, but we are optimistic that they will continue to increase,” Seidel says. “Our student incentive program, in particular, offers some excellent extra motivation to report vaccinations. And we’ll be looking at ways to augment the incentives for our community. The single most important thing one can do to protect one’s health, and to help us all pull out of this pandemic, is to get vaccinated.”
So far, eight students have won prizes in the first four of a series of weekly drawings for students who’ve reported being vaccinated. A weekly $300 cash prize as well as other prizes will go out until the sixth week of the fall semester Sept. 27. Two winners of the grand prize, covering up to $4,500 in tuition and fees, will be drawn for the fall semester -- one the week of Aug. 23, the other the week of Sept. 27.
Other weekly prizes include pregame field access passes for UW football games; “A” parking permits, which usually are only available to faculty and staff members, and are valued at $210 annually; Dining Dollars cards from UW Dining Services, each valued at $100; and Apple AirPods. Additionally, five students will each win the prize of a dinner for six with President Ed Seidel and his partner, Gabrielle Allen, at the Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center. Also included will be catered dinners with Provost and Executive Vice President Kevin Carman, along with Associated Students of UW President Hunter Swilling.
Names are drawn weekly from the total pool of students who’ve reported at least one dose of the vaccine.
UW also is participating in an Albany County vaccination incentive program that will launch soon and be open to all employees and students.
Since July 1, the university has been conducting random-sample testing of 3 percent of the UW community on a weekly basis. Initially, those who were vaccinated were allowed to opt out of the testing; that is no longer the case, in light of the new guidance from the CDC about the potential for vaccinated people to transmit the virus.
Employees and students can still opt out of testing if they will not be on campus for the week; have been diagnosed with COVID within the last 90 days; or are sick or in quarantine.
“The testing program helps us track the prevalence of the virus in our community so that we can respond appropriately. We’ll be prepared to increase the weekly testing sample as conditions warrant,” Seidel says. “Of course, we continue to encourage everyone to self-monitor for COVID-like symptoms and, if you have them, to not enter campus and communal spaces.”
Students living on campus who test positive are required to report those results, and quarantine/isolation housing will be available for those students. Voluntary diagnostic testing will continue to be available to asymptomatic faculty, staff, students and the public as well.
Increased testing is one of the measures the university could implement if the pandemic worsens significantly. Others include reinstating the COVID Pass for required daily screening; restrictions on gatherings, travel and visitors; enhanced cleaning of classrooms and common spaces; and physical distancing recommendations.
More information about UW’s COVID-19 response can be found at www.uwyo.edu/campus-return, which is being updated as information becomes available. Those with questions about testing and other COVID-19 issues may call (307) 766-COVD (2683) or email COVID19@uwyo.edu.