By Chancellor Mark Hagerott
COVID-19 is a pandemic, and a pandemic only ends when in combination with natural immunities, vaccines or effective treatments are developed, collectively leading to the threat being reduced.
We cannot end the pandemic, but we can take steps to protect ourselves, our loved ones, as well as our communities. We can place obstacles in the way to hold it back as much as possible. We can flatten the curve, and by flattening the curve, we can work hard to keep our colleges open until a cure or a widespread solution is available.
Keeping our colleges open is vital in many capacities. We know it will keep our students moving toward their academic and career goals, and ultimately, future success. We know it will protect our employees’ livelihoods. We also know that remaining open means we can contribute to the local economy much more effectively than if it were necessitated that we operate only in a virtual capacity.
Think of the pandemic like a flood, with which many of us are familiar in our state. To hold back a flood, you sandbag and take everything out of the basement. You make sure your sump pump works; you find a way to divert the flow. You put obstacles in the way of the flood waters, hoping to keep the water out of your home until the flood abates or help arrives. These actions are akin to COVID-19 recommended safety measures that are obstacles to flatten the curve.
Testing, masks, plexiglass barriers, social distancing, self-monitoring, staying home when sick, hand hygiene and supporting one another are all protective obstacles we can use as tools to waylay the effects of the pandemic. Each obstacle strengthens and supports the layer that follows. The obstacles in place won’t stop or cure the pandemic, but they can slow the spread until a vaccine is available. By flattening that curve, by holding back the flood, we make it more likely our students and employees will remain healthy and we can keep our campuses open.
To their credit, the majority of our students are following the COVID-safe practices we have adopted. They are wearing masks and social distancing because they value the opportunity to learn in person. We love our distance students, too, and their lives have been changed differently from our on-campus students’ lives. Students who want to be on campus are willing to sacrifice much of what “normal” college life is to be there in person.
North Dakotans should be very proud of students at the North Dakota University System schools that their tax dollars support. They don’t like masks any more than you do, but they are wearing them to protect their fellow students, faculty and staff, and members of the communities that are homes to their campuses.
The change in county designations to restrict gatherings potentially further such as theater productions, concerts, and athletic contests will negatively impact our students and fans/supporters. Such events are part of the lifeblood of our campus. Because our COVID rates are high in certain counties, the majority of our students in those counties won’t be able to enjoy these important aspects of the college experience.
If all of us did what our students do, there would be much less spread of COVID in North Dakota. Mask use and social distancing are not complete guarantees that one will never get or spread COVID, but they do change the odds dramatically.
Bottom line: Let’s follow the example set across our campuses by NDUS students, faculty, and staff: (a) Wear masks; (b) social distance; (c) avoid large gatherings; and (d) wash hands thoroughly and frequently.