Oct. 6, 2020

Dear UAF faculty and staff,

As many of you are aware, COVID-19 cases are rising across our state and especially within the Fairbanks community. While UAF is taking significant measures to ensure students and employees are safe on campus, the rise in cases is a concern to all of us. Nearly all of our employees, myself included, and most of our students live in and are involved in the community in many different ways.

What we do off campus is increasingly important to our ability to protect our mode of operation, a mode that is essential to providing access to education for thousands of students and maintaining our operation as a globally important research university. I encourage you to take the same measures to stave off COVID-19 while off campus as we do on campus. Thank you for protecting your own health and those around you.

Although last week UAF saw a higher number of cases than we’d seen before, we are not seeing sustained levels of COVID-19, and many of the “UAF”-positive cases have no on-campus connection. I thank the university employees, students and contractors for the attention that you are paying to our on-campus environment. We knew when we entered this semester that there would be COVID-19 cases affecting our on-campus community and have relied on mitigation measures to reduce spread of the virus.

The state Department of Health and Social Services continues to do contact tracing and to notify close contacts that occurred during the infectious period of each COVID-19 case. The DHSS does not notify the university when they confirm that a university student or employee tests positive, so we do not have any formal way to know of or communicate their findings. We do, however, have our own COVID-19 reporting forms for students, employees and contractors that help UAF’s Department of Environmental Health, Safety and Risk Management assess impacts and look for clusters or connections.

As we understand, the newly reported COVID-19 cases at UAF last week were a mix of individuals, including those who had limited or no access to the Troth Yeddha’ campus, reducing the number of potential close contacts. Roughly half of the student cases were students taking classes entirely online. It is important to remember that the COVID-19-positive cases on the dashboard are all those reporting individuals who have a connection to UAF, including contractors, wherever they are and whether they had any access to a UAF facility.

In order to provide the most useful information possible, we will be revising the UAF dashboard within the next week to share data in a slightly different format. Data for COVID-19 cases will be broken down into the following categories:
  • Fairbanks (Troth Yeddha', CTC or IAC) campus presence
  • Campus presence outside of Fairbanks
  • No university facility presence
The dashboard will still report on the seven- and 14-day positive case average, percentage of isolation space used, and COVID-19 tests administered. The fact that there are no students currently in our isolation space is a good sign that the pandemic in our on-campus living community remains in check.

While UAF remains committed to providing access to education for our students, UAF’s Operational Support Team (OST) has been working on and communicating with leadership about pathways for changing course should the university need to pivot this winter or spring. Examples include identifying and documenting steps that would be easy to implement and have a short-term benefit, such as moving hyflex courses online, and those that would take more planning, such as a drawdown in campus residency. Of particular interest is the hands-on portions of certain courses, such as labs, or technology classes at CTC.

Also at the heart of planning is Thanksgiving break on Nov. 25-27, and winter break starting two short weeks later on Dec. 13. In my COVID-19 column last week, I asked that those who do not absolutely need to travel for Thanksgiving remain in town and finish out their semester as planned. We also asked that faculty remain flexible, understanding that returning to campus may be difficult if students do need to leave over the Thanksgiving break.

As we spend more time inside this winter, the OST, Residence Life and other units at UAF are busy working on additional safety measures, precautions and parameters to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 on our campuses. Also of concern is our own wellness, and having activities to keep our minds and bodies active. I encourage you to bring your ideas to your department, college or unit to liven up the winter with fun, COVID-19-safe challenges, adventures, games and conversations.

We’re in this together, and so as we manage COVID-19 in our community and at our university, please stay home if you are sick, wear your mask and stay 6 feet apart.

Thanks for choosing UAF.

— Dan White, chancellor

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