Sept. 1, 2020

The big news yesterday was that the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s 14-day average exceeded 10 cases per 100,000, nudging us into the “high” category from the “intermediate” category in the state’s risk metric. This has implications for the school district and for UAF. For the school district it means that they will continue to offer only online courses, and high school athletes cannot compete.

For UAF, things are somewhat different. UAF’s athletics season has not started, and we expect that all sports will be postponed for several months. Most sports are already postponed into the new year. And while UAF courses are not entirely online, we currently have 76% of our credit hours completely online and more courses that are mostly online.

For UAF, the UA On-Site Operations Plan (PDF) has the borough case rate as one of three metrics that triggers a conversation between UA and UAF leadership to evaluate the overall risk to the university. Why does UA’s onsite operation plan have three metrics with which to measure risk? The risk posed to the UAF community would be quite different if the 10 cases per 100,000 were at UAF vs. isolated in a different organization in the borough, or if they were spread evenly across the borough. The risk analysis also weighs the health care capacity of the community in which UAF’s operations exist. The health care capacity in Fairbanks is quite different than it is in Fort Yukon, Kotzebue or Nome. As such we would not apply a uniform standard to our operations in these different regions of UAF’s educational operations. President Pitney and I will discuss UAF’s operations in the context of the new case rate today.

As I walk around campus, I see nearly every student, staff and faculty member following UAF’s COVID-19 face coverings policy. In the rare cases where I see noncompliance I say something, and I would encourage you to do the same. As Valerie Gifford, director of the Student Health and Counseling Center, explained in last week’s Friday forum, this can be as simple as saying, “Are you aware of the face covering policy?” or “Do you know where to get a face covering?” Like most things, it’s on all of us to get through this together. Thank you to everyone who is following the policy and making Nanook Nation a safer place. For those students who are not comfortable wearing masks, there are other options, such as taking courses online.

If you wear glasses as I do, it may be hard to use a mask without fogging up. I encourage everyone to explore the multitude of masks available and find what’s right for you. I have heard some reports of individuals wearing masks below their nose. Maybe this is due to the same “fogging up” issue that I have. In order to be effective, though, the mask needs to cover your nose and mouth, so please continue to try different masks until you find the one that fits you best.

Other options also exist outside of face masks, such as face shields. Please keep in mind that face shields, especially those that are open at the bottom, are not a substitute for a mask when separation is less than 6 feet. In their guidance, the CDC recognizes there are situations where a mask isn't compatible, e.g., for hearing-impaired individuals; in this case, a face shield combined with physical distancing is an acceptable substitute.

At this time we offer two different face shields, the humanity shield and our own shield developed by the Geophysical Institute. If you would like either of these options, please request one through our personal protective equipment (PPE) form. If you are not sure what option to choose the CDC provides guidance around how to choose the appropriate mask. Per the CDC, here are some other helpful tips for social distancing and other things that we can do to keep safe.

UA recently implemented a COVID-19 training course. The training is available to all students, staff and faculty. Although the training is not required, I highly encourage you to take it as it contains many helpful tips and was developed specifically for the University of Alaska campuses.

One question that keeps coming up is about COVID-19 status reporting. There is some confusion about who is required to report and when. Employees are required to fill out the UAF Employee and Contractor COVID Illness Reporting Form. Students are required to fill out the UAF Student COVID Illness Reporting Form. Students and employees must fill out the forms each time they have a change in health status, including if they:
  • show COVID-19 symptoms
  • are under investigation (per State of Alaska)
  • have been in close contact with a COVID-19-positive individual, or
  • have received a COVID-19-positive test.
Supervisors are required to fill out the UA Employee COVID-19 Status tool to indicate their employees’ work and COVID-19 health status.

If someone in the UAF community tests COVID-19-positive, a contact tracer from UAF or from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services will contact you. Please do everything that you can to help the contact tracer do their job to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission. If a DHSS contact tracer contacts you and gives you instructions, please follow them, but also be sure to check with Res Life if you are a student or with your supervisor if you are an employee to make sure you are fulfilling all UAF requirements as well.

If you are a close contact of a confirmed COVID-19-positive individual, it is important to remember that you must be quarantined for 14 days from the date of contact. Having negative test results doesn’t change that timeline. The incubation period for the virus is between 2-14 days, so a person could develop symptoms as late as the 14th day and have a number of negative test results leading up to that point. If you are COVID-19 positive, DHSS will notify you when you no longer need to self-isolate, which is typically 10 days after your positive test date. Although you do not need a negative test, you must get clearance from DHSS before returning to work or class. If you are a residential student, please provide notification to Res Life.

Many things are changing as we move through the pandemic. Please continue to look for updates and seek information on the UAF COVID-19 website to stay up to date and ensure you are following all UAF guidance before you go to campus. UAF’s COVID-19 dashboard is updated daily. It shows how many positive cases have been reported since mid-March and the percentage of isolation space currently being used. We will be adding new information as the situation develops.

Thank you for supporting a healthy and safe Nanook Nation.

— Dan White, chancellor
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