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COVID-19: News and Campus Updates

October 29, Operational Update

October 29 Update (Watch on Youtube)


President Feinstein (00:00):
Well, good morning, everybody. It's Thursday, October 29th, and this is our weekly operational status update call. I want to thank all of you for joining us. Over the last several days, cities and counties across Colorado, including Weld County have seen increases in both the numbers of COVID-19 cases and the positivity rate in testing. While our case numbers at UNC have still been manageable, we have also seen increases in the numbers of positive tests and close contacts associated with them. We have recently seen neighboring counties and communities shift to a more restrictive set of public health guidelines. And based on trend data in Weld County, we anticipate a similar shift here in Greeley in the coming days. From the safer at home yellow level to a safer at home orange. While the changes we expect to see with that shift are not as restrictive at that as the stay at home levels we experienced in the spring, they have an impact on our operations.

President Feinstein (01:11):
We have not officially transitioned to that safer at home orange level yet, and we are not sure exactly when that will happen. It's likely to be announced sometime between now and the end of next week. And my team is preparing additional, more detailed guidance and messaging to share with the university community as we prepare to make the appropriate adjustments to our operations. We anticipate the following changes to take effect once the state officially changes Weld County's designation. In-person class gatherings will be limited to 25 people, and that will affect some of our larger courses, but it will not affect all our in-person and hybrid courses. Many of them are below that new cap. And the provost will be sharing a message with faculty members this afternoon to help them prepare.

President Feinstein (02:04):
We will also ask faculty members to communicate directly with students in all in-person hybrid courses about the status of instructional modalities and any changes. When the shift officially occurs, we expect that capacity at our dining halls will be limited to 50 individuals at that time. Grab and go options will continue to be made available. We will see reductions in the capacity of the rec center and intramural sports as well. And office density will reduce from 50% to 25% occupancy. Staff members we'll receive more information from their supervisors or building managers regarding what the next steps will be. And these are not only the impacts that we expect to see, although they are the main ones, please look for additional details later today and in the coming days as we prepare to shift our operations to respond to state mandates and other public health orders. As COVID-19 case counts increase in the area, there is naturally an increased risk of contracting the virus as we go about our daily lives. Our students, faculty, and staff have done an excellent job in mitigating transmission on campus.

President Feinstein (03:20):
And we have to be extra vigilant in the coming weeks to keep one another safe. As we transition into the safer at home orange level, some of you might not notice significant changes in your daily routine. However, it is important to note that if local conditions continue to worsen, we could find ourselves facing even more restrictive public health orders at the stay at home level. UNC case counts are included in these local figures, so our responsibility is not only to one another on campus, but our neighbors in Greeley and in Weld County. I need all of you to keep your own health and safety and that of your friends and family in mind this Halloween weekend. Our ability to continue through the fall semester as in normal fashion as possible is going to depend a lot on a combination of local conditions and our own behavior. The risk of catching and then spreading COVID-19 is higher now than it has been since the spring.

President Feinstein (04:25):
So, wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands, and importantly, do this all the time. Do not gather in groups or participate in parties on or off campus. If you visit other parts of the state, please note that some counties are seeing even more dramatic increases in cases here in Weld County. So, wherever you are, please be careful and use good judgment. We have done a great job up to this point and let's keep it together. So, now, I'm going to turn it over to our AVP of administration, Blaine Nickeson to give us an update. Blaine.

Blaine Nickeson (05:09):
Thank you, President Feinstein. Good morning, everyone. You've covered many of the most important points regarding the status of COVID-19 in our community. I'd like to reiterate that the single largest driver of case growth, both in the state level and locally, is small private gatherings. There's a sense of safety and security in gathering with people you know to watch the Broncos lose, to have a meal, or to celebrate Halloween. Unfortunately, that's generally a false sense of security. Just because the group you gather with as people you know and trust, it doesn't mean they might not be carrying the virus. Many folks are spreading the virus when they're asymptomatic. They don't know they have it and yet they're spreading it to others. And that's especially true amongst the younger age groups. I know that our case investigations team who talks to all of those contacts frequently talks with people that have become positive case.

Blaine Nickeson (06:06):
And those people are dealing with a lot of guilt and emotions about what activities they had participated in in recent days. We want to avoid that. We continue to do screening tests among residential students and athletes. Last week, we did nearly 500 tests and we were lucky that once again, those tests were all negative. I've honestly been very surprised about the fact that those tests have continued to come back negative, but we are seeing an increase in symptomatic folks and in positive cases reported to us amongst the campus community mirroring what's happening in the broader community and the state. We're currently monitoring 31 positive cases associated with the campus. And that's double what I reported last week. All of those cases are among students and eight of those folks live on campus. We've also seen a few clusters of cases associated with Greek life. On campus, we're currently using 32 of our approximately 80 isolation and quarantine rooms. Our teams had a really busy week as it relates to the number of people within our tracking protocol. In weeks past, we were usually averaging three people at any one time in our active tracking.

Blaine Nickeson (07:12):
That's positive folks, close contacts with them in quarantine, and symptomatic people awaiting test results. As of this morning, we are at 234. Again, from average of 60 to 234. And what's driving that is we've seen significant growth in the groups of close contacts that are every positive case is having. Those group gatherings just have to stop for us to get our hands around this. The state has mandated that no one should have personal gatherings larger than 10. And in that 10, it should only represent two households being present. So, you can have two households gather of five folks, but not five couples getting together for dinner. This is critical as we try to get our hands around this virus again. Andy talked about the data in Weld County and the impacts of moving to a more restrictive level. We're seeing rapid growth in positive cases.

Blaine Nickeson (08:06):
Last Friday evening, I alerted the president's cabinet that our county's cases had entered the orange category for the first time, which could trigger new restrictions. We had a two week case incident at that point of 184 cases per 100,000 residents. Last night, that figure had jumped to 264. That's an increase of 43% in five days. While we're doing more testing, that's not the reason our case incidence is going up. We know that because the positivity rate from the testing is spiking too. We're currently at 7.4% positive and that's up from 5.6% back on Friday. When you're doing more testing, you'd expect the positivity rate to drop, not to climb. There's clear evidence that the virus is spreading rapidly and the single most important measure we look at is hospitalizations. As of yesterday, Weld County hospitalizations for COVID, they were at their highest level since mid-May.

Blaine Nickeson (09:01):
And statewide, yesterday was the highest one day increase in hospitalizations since April. I'd like to talk about two positives as I wrap up and try to end things on a lighter note. The first is that the state has a new exposure notification app. You may have seen info about this in the media. We also included it in yesterday's COVID Digest email. This is technology that uses anonymous tokens shared via Bluetooth anytime you're in close contact with someone else that has the app activated. It does not track or store your location or any personal information. Excuse me. All it does is a handshake with the phone that you're near, and it leaves a Bluetooth token with them. If, for example, five days later, you're diagnosed with COVID-19, you can indicate that in the app, and it will provide an anonymous notification to any of those close contacts that they may have been exposed.

Blaine Nickeson (09:58):
To protect privacy, it doesn't tell them anything about you or even where the exposure may have occurred. So, I'd encourage everyone to activate the function on your phone. It only works if we have widespread adoption. And it's a little different how you activate it, depending on if you have an iPhone or an Android, but pretty simple to do it. I activated mine just this past weekend. Last but not least, I'm extremely excited to announce a new partnership with the state of Colorado for testing on campus. Next week, the state's going to be opening a public testing facility on our campus that'll serve both the UNC community and the wider Greeley and Weld County community. A testing site will be located on the East side of Nottingham Field and will have significant capacity for free testing, upwards of 500 tests a day. There's no cost to the person being tested and you can get tested for any reason.

Blaine Nickeson (10:47):
You don't need a doctor's note, you can just come and get tested for peace of mind. And the test is self-administered. It's an oral swab. So, none of those brain ticklers. You'll then get your results via text and email in a day or two. We're still ironing out the details, but we'll share that with all of you in the coming days, but again, I'm extremely excited about this new testing option for our community and to be working in partnership with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Governor's Office. So, that's all I have for this morning. And I'll turn it back over to you, Andy.

President Feinstein (11:19):
Yep. Blaine, do we know if there's a cost associated with the new testing system? Will just be run through insurance like the other testing mechanisms?

Blaine Nickeson (11:29):
So, to start with, it won't be run through insurance at all. It's just the state is covering it with their CARES Act allocation. I believe that as weeks and a month move on, they want to try to bring it up so that if you do have insurance, it can bill against insurance to allow for the state, those federal dollars to go further for folks without insurance, but that will not be a hindrance to being tested. So, folks, right now, you'll sign up through a little web app, pick an appointment time, roughly a window where you'll walk up. And you will have lots of parking available. You can walk to it, you can bike to it, but it should be simple, fast, free, and just a great service for both our campus community and for our neighbors.

President Feinstein (12:16):
That's outstanding. Very fortunate for us.

Blaine Nickeson (12:19):
Yeah, I'm very excited about it.

President Feinstein (12:22):
So, let's hear from our provost and our vice president for student affairs, Mark Anderson and Katrina Rodriguez. Mark.

Mark Anderson (12:28):
Thank you, Andy. And good morning, I just wanted to reiterate things that Andy and Blaine have talked about. The rate of transmission in Weld County has increased to the point where it appears that we will be going to a new level, the safer at home level three in the coming weeks. That means on the academic side, we need to be prepared to pivot some of our instruction. We've been talking about being prepared to pivot since the summer. And so, everybody should have a level of understanding what that means. At the orange level, the safer at home level three, classes that meet in person can have no more than 25 students. That is a fraction of our courses that are either being delivered in person or in a hybrid delivery. So, it doesn't impact all of our classes, but nevertheless, those classes are going to have to think about and really plan to pivot to a different instructional method when the designation officially happens.

Mark Anderson (13:37):
So, we'll be sending out a communication later today that details some of this and that provides more details to some of this. We also want all of our faculty to be reaching out, regardless of their current mode of instruction and regardless of the number of students, to reassure the students that instruction will continue and to provide them with information on how it will continue, so that nobody is confused about the changes that occur as the county moves into a different level of heightened awareness. As President Feinstein indicated, our campus community continues to do an excellent job at protecting the health and safety. We just want to reiterate the importance of wearing masks, socially distancing, washing your hands, and being mindful about the role that we have in protecting the health and safety of each other. I would also like to take the opportunity to point out some of the good work that our faculty and staff are doing to support our students in this very difficult time.

Mark Anderson (14:46):
The Department of Applied Psychology and Counselor Education has a community engaged course called campus connections. And this is a course, which students at all levels, undergraduate and graduate and from all different disciplines across the entire university, really serve in a mentoring capacity for young people from the Greeley community. They've been able to maintain this course by breaking the students into smaller cohorts that meet less frequently than they have in the past in person, but as frequently in a virtual environment. One of the really hallmarks of this program is the community dinners that they had to help build the sense of belonging for the Greeley youth and the students who are participating. And they've been able to continue to do that, generally speaking through Grab and Grow, but also in an online environment. This program is really very successful at mentoring students, but helping them to see the possibility that higher education provides by giving them opportunities to be on campus, to interact with our students, and to see themselves in a higher education environment.

Mark Anderson (16:06):
Again, one of the hallmarks is the opportunity to have a meal together. And as the weather turns cold, I would like to remind everybody to think of our community and to contribute to the Bear Pantry, to contribute to the weld County Food Pantry as the need increases, especially as it's getting colder. So, thank you to Heather Helm and the Department of Applied Psychology and Counselor Education for that. Jen Mayer from the university libraries has been active in the community in the state of Colorado with the Open Educational Resources initiative. And we have an OER group here on campus really looking at ways we can expand the use of Open Educational Resources. Open Educational Resources are a way that we can really serve our students by recognizing the total cost of attendance at the university. It's not just tuition and housing, but it includes the ancillary things, like buying books and instructional materials. And Open Educational Resources provides a low cost to free option for most courses.

Mark Anderson (17:20):
We have a number of our faculty who are not just using OER materials, but who are generating OER materials that they use in their classes and that they make available across the country to other faculty at other universities to use. And this is another way that our faculty are really mindful of the cost of attendance and mindful of helping our students to be successful in their coursework. And then finally, the U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges issue came out recently and UNC makes the rankings for some of the best online degree programs in the country in the top 100.

Mark Anderson (18:01):
So, for our programs that are being offered online, our courses that are being offered online are getting recognition. And we'd like to thank those who have generated those courses and who are offering those courses in an online environment. We have a lot of great resources for faculty who have recently had to shift over to an online instructional environment. And it's good to know that our programs are getting recognized and we have faculty who excel at teaching in an online environment. And so, with that, I would like to turn the podium to Katrina.

President Feinstein (18:41):
Nice intro music.

Katrina Rodriguez (18:44):
Good morning, everybody. Good morning, everybody, glad to be here with you today. So, thank you for all of the information so far on our orange level that we are likely to move to. We will continue to have some limited dining in the orange level. Of course, we will always have our grab and go and we'll continue to monitor our space and all of that based on the guidelines. Also, we are so glad to keep our campus recreation center open. We are able to fairly easily reduce that to 25% and the staff there feels very comfortable and glad that we can stay open. We've had such a strong visitor usage this fall, and we certainly want to continue to offer those services. Of course, they are incredibly diligent about ensuring that things are wiped down, disinfected. So, they've done a tremendous job over there.

Katrina Rodriguez (19:43):
Dr. Colleen Sonnentag, who is our dean of students at here at UNC. She sent out a message earlier this week. And particularly, as others have said, if we could encourage folks to participate in alternative Halloween activities, and certainly not to frequent crowded bars, because we know that that's where the virus is certainly spreading. So, if you do choose to socialize, please do so in healthy ways and wearing a mask and not just the costume kind, also the social distancing and adhering to the UNC policies and public health guidance. We'd really appreciate your support there, so we do not have more cases here at UNC. She also wanted to share that if you or another bear who needs food or temporary housing or other resources due to the fire in our local area or just other food needs to please be in contact with the Bear Pantry, and we can certainly assist with all kinds of areas in that way, or the Dean of Students Office in getting folks to resources.

Katrina Rodriguez (20:54):
So, thank you, Mark, for encouraging folks to also give to the food pantry. And I also want to offer the services to those who can really utilize those resources. That's what they're good for. Voting, please vote. If you haven't already, make a plan to vote. Certainly, we've got a secure drop box at the university center. And so, it's easy just put your ballot in and go on by. For students who are in quarantine and isolation, we want to ensure that you also are able to vote. So, here's what we're asking. Before you leave your quarantine or isolation space, please text the COVID resource coordinator, their information is all over the materials that you get.

Katrina Rodriguez (21:40):
Let them know you need to leave your room to drop off a ballot that will help them know who's been signed out to go deliver their ballot. Certainly, they will remind you, and I'm reminding you now, please wear your mask and gloves if you are going out, if you're in quarantine and isolation. And I would just offer, if you need something while you're in a quarantine or isolation, you have a need to leave, please call COVID resource coordinator and just check in. Just better to check and do that rather than go out and be at risk of exposing other folks and certainly violating that quarantine and isolation expectations that we have to keep everybody safe. Also, for students who are going into quarantine and isolation, there will be outreach and information provided again about ballots.

Katrina Rodriguez (22:36):
If you need somebody to pick up your ballot, we have folks who are volunteered to do that as well. I think each person's able to pick up 10 and drop them in the box. So, lots of options there. We want everybody to have the opportunity to vote. For the Thanksgiving holiday, we will have minimal meal service. Typically it'll be grab and go once a day, like spring semester, where you can get the items for the day. We typically do not have meal service provided during this time, but we will, and we certainly want to ensure that our folks in quarantine and isolation have a meal. So, we're going to be asking students to complete a survey about what meals they need so we can prepare accordingly. So, just to let you know that service is there. I do want to give a shout out to our dining services team.

Katrina Rodriguez (23:23):
They have kept things going since last spring with all kinds of alternative options and trying to ensure everything is so safe. And they've also been doing delivery to meals for students in quarantine and isolation. I'd also like to thank the volunteers who've begun delivering meals as well. That's really helpful to our dining staff, so they can be focused on things in the dining rooms and kitchens and that kind of thing. So, thank you to those folks. And also one of our last things to share this morning is I want to thank everybody who has come out so far to participate in our Hispanic serving institution, Campus Conversations.

Katrina Rodriguez (24:05):
And I just appreciate all the information that we've gathered so far. We have another session today at 9:30 and our last one tomorrow at 10:00. So, thank you for coming out. This is just the beginning of our Campus Conversations. There will be many opportunities. A few later this fall, and then certainly next spring we will have many opportunities. So, thank you so much and thank you to all of our volunteer facilitators who are doing such a great job at hosting those conversations. So, thank you all for your time this morning and, Andy, I'll turn it back over to you.

President Feinstein (24:40):
Thanks, Katrina, for your presentation, your bits of advice and recommendations. Thanks, Mark, as well. Thanks everybody for tuning in, and as always, stay safe, be healthy, and we'll see you here again next Thursday. Take care, everybody.

Katrina Rodriguez (24:56):