Coronavirus and vaccinations remain a concern for UND faculty and staff, as well as parents

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Nov. 9—UND faculty, staff members, parents and students had the coronavirus vaccine mandate on their minds during a pair of online town hall meetings on Monday, Nov. 8.

At the faculty and staff meeting, people anonymously asked questions ranging from who the vaccine mandate will impact to how long they need to continue wearing masks on campus. Parents asked many of the same questions, and while generally students will not be required to be vaccinated, UND is still sorting through who will be required to receive coronavirus vaccines.

In early September, President Joe Biden enacted a mandate requiring federal contractors and subcontractors to receive the vaccines. That mandate has since been pushed back until early January, before it goes into effect. Some people asked what could happen to an employee who refuses the vaccine, and administrators said the regulations have been softened somewhat, and they can discuss vaccines with an individual and provide them with educational material, before taking punitive steps that could include termination.

UND President Andrew Armacost said more information will be forthcoming once school officials have worked out who needs to get the vaccination, and that they are still working to parse the rules associated with the mandate.

"Our hope is to be as precise as possible and identify those who are directly involved or indirectly involved with those specific federal contractors and contracts, and then apply the vaccine mandate there," Armacost said.

Religious and medical exemptions will be available for employees, but they will need to follow a process to realize those exemptions, as well as do some paperwork and provide documentation indicating they qualify for them.

When asked about the ongoing mask mandate, which came up at both the faculty and parents/students meeting, Armacost said it will continue until the rate of transmission falls to 55 people per 100,000. Recently Armacost said that the rate has been hovering around 250 or 300 people per 100,000.

Jed Shivers, vice president of finance and operations, said the U.S. tends to follow Europe in terms of rising and falling waves of the virus. Shivers said cases have been rising there, and that the university may have some ways to go before rates fall.

"I think it's important for us to recognize that we're not done with this yet," Shivers said.

Provost Eric Link said masks must be worn in the classroom, even if a faculty member is more than six feet away from students. A faculty member told Link that he has seen people on campus not wear masks. Wearing masks, Link said, can prevent an entire class from having to quarantine should a person in that class wind up testing positive.

Parents and students asked a variety of questions ranging from the availability of vaccines and boosters on campus to how students can get food over the Thanksgiving holiday. The shots are widely available, as will dining services be over the holiday. Orlynn Rosaasen, director of dining services, implored students to work part-time at dining services in order to expand options and raise the quality of the meal experience.

UND Aerospace Dean Robert Kraus and Associate Dean Beth Bjerke told parents the school will take part in a mental health and aviation summit on Dec. 15, in response to the recent death of John Hauser, who died in a plane crash on Oct. 18. Kraus previously told the Herald that Hauser was experiencing mental health issues before the crash.

The summit will be held with members of the Federal Aviation Administration along with representatives of United Airlines, as well as other schools.

"We're not going to solve this issue internally at UND, and it's an issue that others are concerned about as well," Bjerke said, about mental health issues in aviation. "We're trying to bring this conversation more to a national level."

Kraus said UND Aerospace will undergo something akin to an internal audit, designed to see if the aviation program places some students under undue stress, and decide if changes are needed,

UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences Dean Joshua Wynne, when asked about heart inflammation caused by some vaccines, said it is still preferable to receive the shots. Incidences of that side effect art not wide spread, Wynne said.

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