Fall planning town hall

The University of Utah’s plans for the Fall 2021 semester was shared in a town hall webinar on Wednesday, March 31, 2021. The evolving plans look to the future of the health landscape and how campus will be reopened in phases with best health practices in place.

Presenters included President Ruth Watkins; SVP Michael Good; SVP Dan Reed; Dr. Richard Orlandi, chief medical officer for University of Utah’s Health Ambulatory Services; Steven Lacey, chief of the Division of Public Health; Lori McDonald, vice president for student affairs; Andy Weyrich, vice president for research; and Jeff Herring, chief human resources officer.

The webinar and a transcript are below.

Fall planning town hall meeting transcript

Chris Nelson

Well, happy Wednesday, everybody. My name is Chris Nelson. I’m the communications director at the University of Utah, and I want to welcome everyone to the first in a series of town hall meetings as we communicate current and future plans and our thinking around these plans as we get ready for fall semester at the University of Utah. As has been previously announced, the university expects to have the majority of its classes to be held in-person this fall with active student activities and a full fall break.

Today, we’re joined by a fairly large cast of experts from the university’s administration, and I’ll introduce them as we go through, but I do want to reference everyone back to our attheU.utah.edu website as well as our coronavirus.utah.edu website for more information as well.

One point as we talk about today, there’s going to be a lot of questions that we’re going to ask, we have a lot of great submissions from folks, that we just don’t have answers for yet. And so part of our goal today is to make sure the campus community is aware of what the thought process around this is. And so I think the plan is we’ll go through all the speakers here first, and then we’ll get back to questions. So with that, I’ll turn over the time to President Ruth Watkins for her remarks.

President Ruth Watkins

Good afternoon, everyone. And thank you so much, Chris. We appreciate you being with us. I want to say a big message of thank you. My job is to express gratitude for what you have done to get us through this pandemic year and to help us think forward for a healthy future. Here we are, one month to the finish line of this semester. You have all made that possible with your hard work, with your creativity, with your innovation. You have done remarkable things keeping our campus safe, operational and successful. Thank you for what you’ve done.

As we look to the future, we know that the University of Utah is on a wonderful upward trajectory, and I fully anticipate that will continue. Part of our work together will be thinking about how we continue to navigate safely through commencement, through the summer, and into a fall semester where we anticipate we will be back in person much more.

We also have the opportunity to learn from this experience and build back better. I know you will have questions about how we anticipate doing that, what might remain as remote work, how we might learn through this about our digital learning opportunities. I am eager for those dialogues and those questions, they are precisely the ones for us to ask. So thank you for being with us and I’m going to pass back to Chris for our next speaker.

Chris Nelson

Thank you, president. Our next speaker is Dr. Mike Good. Dr. Good is a senior vice president for Health Sciences and soon to be interim president of the University of Utah. Dr. Good.

Dr. Mike Good

I add my thanks to our entire campus community. Working together we’ve kept this virus, this pandemic, at a particularly low level on our campus, all doing the things that we need to do. The vaccination program in the state of Utah, kind of all hands on-deck. Our state has done a good job acquiring vaccine and through the county health departments, and more recently through the health systems including University of Utah Health, we are now vaccinating all adults. In fact, all those 16 years of age and older are eligible for a vaccine and are strongly encouraged to get it. A number of our U Health clinics are offering a vaccination. So that’s first and foremost, please get a vaccine as you are eligible now.

Second thing is we are really seeing the effects of vaccination and also continued good public health measures. We’re in a good place in the state of Utah at this moment with low levels of virus. However, after several weeks of decline, we have leveled off. We’re not seeing those declines anymore. And so we need to remain very vigilant and continue doing things like masking and like distancing and so on till we can get everyone vaccinated. Over 80% of those 70 and older in our state have been vaccinated and we’re up over 60% of those 60 and older have been vaccinated. As we work into each of the decades, obviously, there’s more and more people to vaccinate, but right now we’re in a good place. At one time we had 90 patients in University Hospital. We got down actually a little bit under 10, but that’s eased back up. Today, we have 20 COVID patients in our hospital.

As I said, while the state of Utah, and particularly the campus of the University of Utah, is in a good place, that is not true throughout the world, and particularly in some other states across the United States of America. And so we’re going to have to remain vigilant and, again, just push real hard to get everyone vaccinated as we anticipate where we’ll be in the fall. That’s a really important part of the equation. Chris, back to you.

Chris Nelson

Thank you, Dr. Good. Next up is Dr. Dan Reed, who’s the senior vice president for Academic Affairs. Dr. Reed.

Dr. Dan Reed

Thanks, Chris. I want to join in echoing what President Watkins and SVP Good said. A huge, huge, thank you. I think one of the things that’s really been a hallmark of the One Utah model is how everyone has pitched in and collaborated across so many axes as we navigated complex and in many cases rapidly shifting circumstances. It’s been a partnership and a collaboration and a willingness to work together that has helped us avoid some of the challenges that some of our peer institutions have experienced. So just a big thank you.

I want to echo what Mike said about continuing to remain vigilant in terms of face coverings and social distancing and personal hand hygiene. All of those things are important as we’re in this transition space. I’m reminded of the old Wayne Gretzky comment about skating to where the puck will be, not where it is, and that’s what we’re really, as we look to the fall, trying to do. We’re trying to look at what we think is the most likely eventualities that will hold in terms of vaccination distribution of COVID prevalence in Utah in planning for that. But I want to reassure everyone that we have contingency plans and should things turn back to another spike at that time, we will absolutely return to online instruction. So we know how to do that. Thanks to all of you, we worked through all of those trade-offs. We have good plans for that. We know how to do it, and we will keep those plans active should it be necessary. But what we’re planning for the fall, based on, as I said, trying to skate to where the puck will be, is a belief that everyone who wants to be vaccinated, 16 and above, will have had the opportunity before fall classes start. That’s our plan and operation mode right now.

And so we’ve been working with our counterparts across the state, and I’ve been in regular contact with my Pac-12 peers, as we talk about what’s coming, and as Mike said, what’s different in different states. The guidance that we receive from USHE, the USHE system of higher education, our governing board for the state, is that we should look at when we think about in-person classes, look at sections. And so I really want to express my thanks for the partnership with all of the college-level and departmental schedulers, department heads and deans who’ve worked collaboratively with the Registrar’s Office to plan for the fall. Right now, we are just at about, in terms of planning, for the schedule that we released on Monday, about 85% of our classes will have some portion of an in-person component. That includes some traditional lectures, but it includes interactive video classes that may have an in-person component. It includes hybrid classes.

So, it’s a broad definition of in person, not just the traditional lecture format. And so a huge thank you to people for working on that. As I said, we have a contingency plan, should we need to pivot back to more online, we will do so.

As always, and I’ve said this throughout this entire process, our No. 1 priority is and will remain the health of our faculty, staff and students. Nothing is more important than that, and that will continue to guide what we do, shaped by evolving public health guidance as we look toward where we think we will be in August. And as Chris mentioned at the outset, we do plan to have a traditional fall break, and so you can mark that on your calendar. It’s going to happen. That’s our plan of record at the moment with the fall schedule.

I do want to comment on a question some might ask about the mix of in person and online. I do want to remind people that prior to COVID-19, the U was aggressively moving down a path to offer more online course offerings. That work continues, and that’s intended to support flexibility for our students who may have part-time jobs or other life conflicts. So, on the one hand, we’re planning for more online classes, but we’re also aggressively planning for more online classes to go with the in-person classes. And if you look at the fall, I think one of the things that you’re going to hear, and this is really my last key point, for all of us in this spirit of the old adage of never waste a crisis, what can we all learn from the COVID-19 experience that will allow us in a One U perspective, to use the phrase that President Watkins used, build back better? How can we be better post-COVID than we were pre-COVID? And that means thinking about what things we might learn about telework, what we might learn about online instruction, about flexibility. How do we capitalize on all of those things? But my message to you is we are expecting to be back based on what we think will be true, largely back on campus, but public health will guide everything that we do as we think about health and safety of our faculty, staff and students. Not only physical health, but mental health and well-being as well, because those go hand in hand. Back to you, Chris.

Chris Nelson

Thanks, Dr. Reed. This next section we’ll kind of get into some of the specifics. We’ll get into the weeds a little bit. The next speaker is Dr. Richard Orlandi. Dr. Orlandi is a clinician at University of Utah Health and the associate chief medical officer for ambulatory health. Dr. Orlandi.

Dr. Richard Orlandi

Thanks, Chris. As Dr. Good mentioned, vaccination is going to be a very important part of getting back to normal, whatever that new normal is, in the fall. The state of Utah has chosen to distribute vaccine largely through local health departments and is frankly doing a very good job of getting the vaccine that we receive from the federal government into arms very quickly. We’re one of the top states in that metric. We will continue to rely on our local health departments for the vast majority of vaccinations.

Now University of Utah Health, as well as other health organizations in the state, are receiving a small percentage to augment that effort, to support the state’s effort in an accessory or supporting role. That will be true as we go into the late spring. University of Utah Health will continue to vaccinate our patients, especially our at-risk and any patients that require it who are unable to get access to the vaccination resources in their local health departments. That will include our campus community.

We anticipate that those who wish to be vaccinated within the state of Utah will largely be vaccinated by early summer, probably late May, June, time period as we look down the road at vaccine availability. That will allow us to be in a position to then convert to a more normal, if there is such a thing with COVID, normal vaccination process as we do with flu or other things as we get into the fall semester for those, again, who wish to be vaccinated. That’s how we’re looking at things now. I certainly look forward to answering questions as they come up. Chris?

Chris Nelson

Thanks, Dr. Orlandi. Dr. Steven Lacey is the chief of the Division of Public Health at the university’s medical school. Dr. Lacey. Also, I should mention he has become a senior advisor to the administration and the cabinet during the COVID crisis. Dr. Lacey.

Dr. Steven Lacey

Hey. Thank you, Chris. Thank you for having me. Good afternoon, everyone. I want to lead with a thank you to our incident management team. This is a group of faculty and staff members that have been lending their expertise to work with our campus emergency management team to put policy into practice to keep our campus safe. At any given point in time over the past year, there must be 100 or 200 people working on this problem to keep COVID off campus best we can and I’m really grateful for that work.

As Dr. Good hinted at a moment ago, the country is in a really vulnerable spot right now. Vaccines on the way, but rollout takes time, and the virus continues to circulate, and variants are going to continue to emerge, right? The most important thing that each of us can do right now is get vaccinated as soon as you’re eligible. As soon as you’re eligible, you have to get vaccinated. But while we work towards that position of herd immunity, as they call it as a nation, we need to continue the basics. We need to keep masking and physical distancing and keep participating in our asymptomatic testing that Richard Orlandi and Andy Weyrich have stood up for the campus.

Asymptomatic testing, I know it feels like the pandemic is over, but it’s not. Asymptomatic testing, especially for those that are on or coming to campus, lets us identify those that test positive so we can ask them to stay home. Identifying those positive cases allows us to put contact tracing into motion that further curbs additional transmission.

My points are get vaccinated as soon as you can. I get my second dose tomorrow. Continue to mask and physically distance, continue to get tested, especially if you’re on or coming to campus. If you test positive, use the self-reporting process to let us know. That closes that time window for us to get contact tracing into motion even more rapidly. All of how to do this, on where to get tested and how to self-report, that’s on coronavirus.utah.edu.

The last thing I’ll say is answer your phone. This is how you support contact tracing, by answering your phone. Doing all of these things are going to help us accelerate out of the pandemic over these next few months. Thanks, Chris.

Chris Nelson

Thanks, Dr. Lacey. Next speaker is the university’s Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Lori McDonald.

Dr. Lori McDonald

Thank you so much. I think in terms of when we think about on-campus housing, student activities on campus, and student services for the fall, you will hear very similar thoughts as to our planning for classes and everything that everyone has said before me. We have learned a lot about this virus. We have learned a lot about how to minimize risk as much as possible. It has been an exercise in adaptation, daily, and that will continue. But I think we know that it is really important, particularly for our students, but also our faculty and staff, to have supportive and social opportunities, but supportive relationships to be successful in the classroom and out of the classroom. We are planning for how we can do that as safely as possible.

I think you’ll see a mix just like Dr. Reed was explaining with classes. We will continue to offer some virtual opportunities for connections. They may be more physically distanced, but still socially connected. We will see many more in-person opportunities for people to connect with public health guidelines like spacing out. We’re going to use more of our spaces on campus than we have been able to in the last year, but still encouraging that spreading out, masking, increased hygiene. As Dr. Lacey mentioned, this is really when contact tracing will come into play. Testing, there will be lots more check-ins so that we know who is at events and how we can get in touch with them more quickly.

I think we will still provide lots of space for quarantine and isolation, particularly for those students who are living on campus, and support resources for when individuals are in those situations. But we just want to acknowledge that we are constantly adjusting and that will remain challenging. But with cautious optimism, I think we will see many more opportunities for interaction on campus. We will also need to learn how to respectfully acknowledge individual’s personal boundaries and learn how to communicate that with one another. We can do this as a community. I also echo everyone’s gratitude for everyone who has been adaptable and contributing to how we can get through this together. Thank you.

Chris Nelson

Thanks, Dr. McDonald. A significant part of the university’s response to the pandemic has been the university’s research enterprise. The research labs have continued on following our protocols. We wanted to give a moment for our Vice President for Research Dr. Andy Weyrich to speak and speak to that community and issues unique to the research community. Dr Weyrich?

Dr. Andy Weyrich

Thanks, Chris, and thanks to all of you. I do want to give a big shout out, because I will say during COVID, research has continued to do really, really well. During the three months of the last fiscal year and nine months into this fiscal year, we are way up on awards. We continue to be way up on expenditures, publications, other activities that we’re seeing are significantly increased. That’s just an amazing thing. It’s a testament to all of you.

In parallel though, we are also way down or we haven’t had any safety issues. In the research community, that’s one of the things that’s been fantastic. Across the university for that matter, we haven’t had COVID where we’ve had cross-contamination between laboratories. We haven’t had to shut anything down and it’s been fantastic. Thanks to all of you for continuing to do fantastic on the research side, all of your hard work and doing it in a safe manner.

We are pretty much status quo for where we’ve been since May 11. PPE, as you know, will be continued to be required, as always, in our laboratories. Physical distancing will continue to be maintained under the guidelines that we have now, and then following the CDC closely. One of the big things for all of you is testing. The surveillance testing is up, and you will notice the tubes are just a little bit bigger now. Why is that? Because we can actually in positive cases now go test for variants. That’s really important. We are moving on that. We expect that to continue through the summer and into the fall.

The one thing that people keep asking us about is undergraduate students. Undergraduate students in the summer will basically be allowed to come into the laboratories under the measures that we’ve taken in the past. We are still working on some of the SPUR programs. University of Utah students that are enrolled in that will be as is. We’re looking to see whether we’ll be able to accommodate some undergraduates from other places like we typically have in small numbers. We’ll be looking at that closely.

But really the take home is, is to continue to do what you’re doing. We will keep you posted as always, but the big thing is to thank you for keeping research going at such a high trajectory and keeping us safe along the way.

Chris Nelson

Thanks, Dr. Weyrich. The university’s human resources team has been particularly busy during the pandemic and I think they’re about to get busier as we plan for a return to fall semester. And with some more on that is Jeff Herring. Jeff is the university’s chief human resources officer. Jeff?

Jeff Herring

Thanks, Chris. And just want to echo the efforts that everybody has made through this last year. It’s a big ship that we’re navigating here with the students and faculty and staff. We’re hard at work, looking, I think, to combine some things that Dr. Reed said and Dr. Orlandi had mentioned about skating to where the puck is, with Wayne Gretzky, and this cautious optimism of vaccinations. But what we know is come fall, that we cannot just flip a switch and have the campus community with faculty and staff just return. So we are looking and making efforts to start a gradual process and planning process of making sure that we have time to phase that back in. Well, it kind of happened overnight, but it was a while to leave campus. And so it is going to be as much of an effort to come back to campus with that.

We’re coalescing around three different phases. The first phase that we’re in right now, really, is planning the efforts of what that looks like, what we anticipate that it’s going to be, looking at the data and the numbers as they continue to improve. And based upon some of the medical guidelines, I think you talked about, Dr. Orlandi mentioned, end of May, beginning of July or beginning of June, hopefully vaccinations for people who want to get that, we’ll be able to be done.

So, we’re starting to look around a July 1 process or around that, beginning of July, to start integrating people back into the campus so they can take care of the things that they need to so that when the fall semester six, seven weeks later, starts, we’ve got the support in place for the students and the research and all of the health activities that are taking place on campus that we need to be here doing.

So, I want to underline all of that with what’s been mentioned that we know how to shut down rather quickly. And if the things don’t work out with the public health that we anticipate that they will, then we will take contingency plans on that. But we have to make the efforts now to plan for what we anticipate will be so that we’ve got all those areas covered for our students when they returned to campus. So back to you, Chris.

Chris Nelson

Thanks, Jeff. All right. Now we’re going to enter the speed round. A lot of very practical questions that have come in, and I think most of you have seen these questions, but there may be a few and I’ll try to direct them as best I can. Before we do that, I do want to thank Shawn Wood and Brooke Adams with University Marketing & Communications for making today’s town hall possible and working behind the scenes.

All right. So the first one, first question for Dr. Orlandi and Dr. Lacey probably. How long will the university continuous testing program? Asymptomatic testing program, I should clarify.

Dr. Richard Orlandi

I’ll take the low-brow approach and then I’ll defer to Dr. Lacey for the smart approach. I think that basically as long as necessary. I don’t know that we know what’s going to, what’s going to happen. With COVID, we’ve just learned not to plan too far in advance. And so I think that the asymptomatic testing helps us to understand what is going on in our campus community. It helps us to understand the risks to our campus community, if rates are going up or down. It helps us to assess that risk. So I hate to be trite, but it’s really as long as we need to. I would suspect well into fall, but I’ll defer to Dr. Lacey.

Dr. Steven Lacey

Yeah. Dr. Orlandi, you’re exactly right. It’s going to be as long as it takes. Remember flattening the curve? Remember that phrase from all the way back in 2020, flattening the curve? It’s that intelligence that Dr. Orlandi was just talking about, having a sense of what’s going on in the community with disease transmission. That’s what asymptomatic testing provides us. And so we cannot give up on collecting that knowledge that we’re going to need about how the disease is moving through the community. And so as we sit here, it’s going to have to occur as long as necessary, definitely through the fall. I completely agree with Dr. Orlandi.

Chris Nelson

And just as a reminder, weekly testing is available right now. It’s being done at the officer’s club. It’s being done at the union building. It’s fast, it’s easy. The results come back. It’s being done through our research enterprise. So if anyone watching this in the campus community is not taking advantage of that, doesn’t matter if you are living on campus or working remotely, you can come in and schedule that easiest way to get to that is coronavirus.utah.edu. But really a remarkable resource that I think the university has been doing.

The second biggest question I think we received in a lot of iterations is the state has announced the lifting of its mask mandates on April 10. Will the university continue requiring folks, people on campus to wear a mask? Dr. Good, Dr. Lacey?

Dr. Mike Good

Sure. I’ll start. Yes. We’re going to ask the University of Utah campus community to continue to wear face coverings through the end of the spring semester and into the summer semester as well. I’m often asked, “I’ve got the vaccination, do I still have to wear a mask?” And remember, let’s think through. So the vaccine creates an antibody and a cellular immunity response so that if I encounter the virus, my body has a head start on fighting that infection. Being vaccinated does not mean that I won’t encounter the virus or that I may have … it may be in my throat or the back of my nose. I may get sick or mildly sick or not sick at all, but it prevents me from getting severely ill. The vaccine prevents me, if I encounter the virus, from becoming severely ill requiring hospitalization or even worse.

What we don’t yet have a good handle on is if I’ve been vaccinated, I encounter the virus, I have no symptoms, but can I transmit the virus to someone who’s not been vaccinated, and they then would get quite ill. So we’re going to continue with the face masks until we get a much larger percentage of our population vaccinated and with that immunity. So a long-winded answer, but the bottom line is yes, we’re going to continue face coverings through the end of this semester and into the summer as well. And depending on where things are in the fall, many of us anticipate we’ll probably be wearing masks in the fall as well. But that’s a decision that we can make a little bit later on in our planning process.

Chris Nelson

Dr. Lacey?

Dr. Steven Lacey

Yeah. All of that is exactly correct. And I’ll just answer it a slightly different way. If someone asks why is it different, why are the county rules different than the university rules if the one is inside the other. And to me, that’s about what I always think about as a standard of care. So we have the student community that we’re responsible for while they’re on campus. And we all have our faculty and staff teams that folks like on this call right now are responsible for. And many of you, you’re responsible for your own team. If you work in facilities, you have your team. And I think because we’re the University of Utah, we have a standard of care that needs to be higher than the norm or that could work for broader geographic areas. So to me, this is about making sure we’re taking care of the students and the faculty and staff that all of us feel responsible for.

Dr. Dan Reed

I was just going to jump in and add with respect to the fall and classes, Dr. Good’s right. We will continue to look at public health conditions. But I think you should, to echo what Dr. Lacey just said, soon we will err on the side of conservatism and in terms of any decisions about the fall with respect to face coverings, right now, our working assumption is that’s how the semester would start. And just as we involved a broad-based collaborative planning team to shape our instructional guidelines during COVID, the so-called Project Marmalade team, we will continue to engage that and other stakeholders to talk through what the risk situation is before we made any decision about that.

So, in terms of what people can expect for fall class experience, expect that we will still have physical distancing and care. So we want to err on the side of care, but we also want to, as Dr. McDonald said, start to welcome people back because it is this balance of protecting people’s physical health, but recognizing that the vibrancy of the in-person experience is really a part of what, as the public health conditions and vaccination rates improve, we want to embrace and support as well, because it’s a big part of what the U experience really is.

Chris Nelson

And Dr. Reed, since you’ve got the floor, we’d had a question about options for students. I know the class schedule for fall, fall semester, is now published. Your advice to a student who is looking at registration, but maybe has concerns.

Dr. Dan Reed

Well, actually, that’s a good way to make a point as well about learning from the crisis. One of the things that was really clear that was very effective during the crisis was having our advising teams be online. That’s a great example of something we will probably continue. Very positive student response from that. So the short answer is talk to your advisor about options. As I said at the outset, we have a growing number of courses online. And in addition, connected to public health and safety, it is our largest classes that disproportionately will be offered online. And that’s related to trying to protect health and safety. So, absolutely talk to your advisor if you have any concerns about those. There’s a wide range of online options that students can continue to take should they have concerns about public health.

Chris Nelson

And again, if you’re a student, or a parent, or advisor of a student, the fall schedule has been posted and I encourage you to go to attheu.utah.edu to find that information.

Let me turn to Jeff Herring, a lot of employee questions, a lot of questions around temporary work adjustments. So Jeff, I was just going to kind of go to questions about when they expire, new guidance, cutoff dates for new TWAs being considered. And do you mind touching on temporary work adjustments?

Jeff Herring

That’s great. Now, we’re into the weeds on the faculty and staff here with the TWAs, but it’s an important question, Chris. There are temporary work adjustments and we’ve had those in place during the last year to help people navigate through this challenging time on campus. With the prevalence of vaccinations that we’re starting to see and hopefully continuing on through the next few months and into summer, those temporary work adjustments will change.

Right now, the temporary work adjustments that are in place will be good through the end of June, but starting July 1, we will put a new form out there with new guidance based upon what we anticipate will be there for temporary work adjustments going forward. The biggest change that I think you’ll see, and that … So July 1st is when we’ll start approving those for fall semester, but I want to make sure that everyone understands that as we look at those going forward, it won’t have the same CDC criteria after mass vaccinations are available.

We’ll have the same temporary workforce adjustments, but primarily, they will be granted at this point for individuals who have perhaps children at home that aren’t eligible for the vaccination that have some concerns that way. But not just because of the concerns that people would have in coming back thereafter they’ve had the chance to be vaccinated. So just want to make that point, that July 1 is the date on that, Chris.

Chris Nelson

Okay. Yeah. And folks with very specific concerns, you can contact to our HR generalist or just HR in general as well. One question that came in, I know the university is under a soft hiring freeze. For President Watkins, Jeff Herring, thoughts on how the university’s doing around that. Do we expect opening up some positions here shortly?

President Ruth Watkins

I would say, of course, our first critical priority is to compensate and keep the team members that we have. With thanks to the Utah Legislature, we’re going to be able to do that in the new fiscal year. So we’re grateful for that. And that is priority one.

I think then we begin to think about critical areas and adding people where we need them. The exception process is open and available and can be pursued through your cognizant VP, as there are critical needs. And then as we go forward taking stock of where we are and where we’re growing, we can then move on to adding individuals and removing the hiring freeze entirely. I’m not certain of when that date will be, that is the right time to go beyond the exception process, but I can begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel. And I turn to Jeff for any additions he wants to add.

Jeff Herring

No, I think that’s right, President Watkins. I just want to reiterate that the faculty and staff that we have right now are the primary concern. We’re going through the budget and I think that hopefully will come out of this well. What I do want to emphasize here maybe, Chris, is the ongoing work that we’re looking at, some of the lessons learned from this and how we can work better, more efficiently. And I think that will all help as well. So I don’t think we’re going to … whatever the new normal is come fall, I don’t think it will be the same as what it was pre-pandemic. And I think all of that will help and modify our hiring as well.

Chris Nelson

Excellent. Yeah. And for those watching, it’s what, March 30 today, we’ve got a few months. So I think some of this we’ll do deeper dives into some of these questions in the future months as well.

I want to turn back to vaccinations, Dr. Orlandi, specifically, and maybe Dr. Reed and Dr. McDonald. A lot of questions around vaccination mandates, and maybe Dr. Orlandi or Dr. Reed, give us just an overview of where we’re at with that and why, at least at this point, that would not be a mandatory requirement.

Dr. Richard Orlandi

Maybe I’ll start out. And then ask Vice President Reed to comment. The vaccines right now are not FDA approved in the classic way. It’s an emergency use authorization. It’s a much shorter process. And because of that, we are … I’ve been vaccinated. My family has. We all feel that they’re safe, but mandating a vaccine is a little bit different right now with that approval process. And so for that reason, we’re holding off on a mandate. Again, we’ll learn more and we’ll closely watch the FDA process, but for right now, we’re very much encouraging. We think it is the best thing for all of us to get vaccinated. Again, my family and I, and all my colleagues, we’ve all been vaccinated, but we are not mandating it right now.

Dr. Dan Reed

I just echo that. And SVP Good might want to comment as well on this. As Dr. Orlandi said, under the emergency use authorization, so-called the EUA, by federal guidance we cannot mandate uptake of a vaccine. There’s also some state legislation that defines rules. There have always been exceptions for vaccinations under state law. The new state law that was passed in this session also includes a strongly held personal belief as a qualifying exemption for COVID-19 vaccinations as well. But I just echo what Dr. Orlandi said. My second dose is tomorrow. And I’m looking forward to that. You should have all avail yourself of the opportunity. We believe it’s safe. All the scientific evidence says it’s effective, but we cannot mandate it given the current state and in federal guidance.

Chris Nelson

Well, I want to thank everybody. I think we’ve worked our way through most of the questions. Some of the questions we haven’t addressed, what I would ask our audience is we’ll preserve those for future months as well. I want to let President Watkins close out, but also just emphasize we’ve had a lot of questions around we’re still in our spring semester guidelines. Nothing has changed currently. So all this is future looking. So testing, self-reporting, following public health guidance. If you have any question, check out coronavirus.utah.edu, and we’ll continue these conversations in the future. But with that, President Watkins, we’ll give you the last word.

President Ruth Watkins

What a remarkable team of people involved at the University of Utah campus. From University of Utah Health, to all the areas represented here in this meeting. This institution has navigated well through a pandemic because of hard work, talent, advice of wise experts, and a spirit that is about supporting the health and well-being of our community. Thank you all. I have a confidence that we have learned some things to the pandemic that will help us be a stronger and better institution going forward, from advances in how we’re learning through online tools, to how we can help support health and safety across our institution. Thank you all for what you are doing, what you have done, what you will do, and all best wishes for the future.

Dr. Dan Reed

I have to say on behalf of this team and the university, a huge thank you to our leader, President Watkins. She will be missed. We are enormously grateful for your leadership and the culture that you created that’s helped us move through this crisis. So a deep and sincere thank you.

President Ruth Watkins

Thank you very much, Dan, and yeah, I have to say preparing for a pandemic was not in the presidential playbook. And so I am really grateful for the way this campus, and frankly, the state of Utah have stepped up to address some pretty significant challenges around us that we did not expect. And nevertheless, the University of Utah remains strong and has a very vibrant future. Thank you all.