UNR responds to criticism of COVID policies

administration says it will adjust procedures if contagion gets worse

PHOTO/WENEI PHILIMON: Two University of Nevada, Reno students on campus in November 2020.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Reno News & Review Sept. 22 asked the University of Nevada, Reno’s Office of Communications questions relating to some faculty members’ concerns about inadequate COVID-19 testing, crowded classrooms that lack distancing among students and other issues specified in an open letter to UNR President Brian Sandoval and signed by scores of faculty members. The university’s response is published, in full, below:

Since July 2021 when the University of Nevada, Reno returned to full in-person operations, our responsibility has been to our students, faculty, researchers and staff in providing a quality educational and work experience.

Our students made it abundantly clear that they wished to return to an in-person educational experience while we provide to all of our people – students, faculty and staff – all of the latest work-, living- and gathering-related guidelines that have been mandated by the CDC, the State of Nevada and Gov. Steve Sisolak, the Nevada System of Higher Education and Washoe County.

This has included the recent implementation of a vaccination mandate from the State Board of Health for our students as well as testing mandates for employees and the ongoing discussion regarding mandatory vaccinations for NSHE employees which could be implemented soon. It should be noted that our latest figures for vaccinations indicate that 83.4 percent of our employees (faculty and staff) are currently fully vaccinated.

All students will have to be vaccinated prior to registering for the spring 2022 semester.

We realize that there are points of these wide-ranging mandates that we must constantly evaluate. As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic can prove to be very dynamic and there must be awareness and adjustment made based on the latest public health guidelines. In particular, the testing situation – not only for our university community, but throughout the entire country – remains particularly challenging.

We have provided, and continue to provide, a number of testing-related resources, both in the community and on our campus, that our people can use. We have encouraged our employees to seek a number of community resources available for testing, including at two Walmart locations in Reno, whose testing is available thanks to additional federal funding for their benefit. Although the Student Health Center remains a student-focused resource, funded entirely by our students, the Student Health Center has remained a no-cost option for our entire campus.

We have developed, through the Provost’s Office and with the help of the staff of the Student Health Center, a contact tracing mechanism that so far this semester has proven to be effective in keeping the number of cases that originate in spaces on our campus low. We have created a remote work policy, which has been approved through the usual policy processes including shared faculty governance. This policy will go into effect January 2022.

We continue to mandate that all individuals on campus, vaccinated or unvaccinated, must wear masks in indoor settings unless they are in an office by themselves. We realize that this is a time that demands a great deal from the students, faculty and staff of our University.

We continue to closely monitor the health of our University community, and the University is always ready to adjust or re-calibrate our efforts in the event the pandemic shifts for the worse. We remain extremely grateful for the extraordinary work that our faculty continue do during this challenging time.

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