USD plans to continue monitoring COVID-19 levels
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USD plans to continue monitoring COVID-19 levels

USD is still monitoring COVID-19 cases among students, faculty and the community as a whole. 

Kevin O’Kelley, USD Assistant Vice President for Research Compliance and Director of Environmental Health and Safety, is the university’s point of contact for the South Dakota Department of Health. He will know about every COVID-19 case on campus and within the community and report those numbers to the USD COVID-19 Taskforce and to President Sheila Gestring.

“Given the low COVID rate in the state during the summer, we relaxed some standards and  practices on campus, i.e. the mask mandate indoors and the physical distancing in classrooms and labs,” O’Kelley said. “Those have been rescinded, based on the fact that last spring, we saw a precipitous decline in COVID-19 rates in our staff and faculty. By the end of the school year it was virtually gone from campus.”

USD does not act on these mandates on their own. The South Dakota Board of Regents makes most of these decisions, O’Kelley said.

Michelle Cwach, The Assistant Vice President of Marketing, Enrollment and University Relations said modeling suggests there will not be a notable outbreak this coming fall.

“USD’s COVID-19 Task Force has prepared contingency plans in case we are mistaken. USD will monitor local conditions and should our status change, we would reconsider mitigation efforts such as face coverings, reduced capacity, etc. in coordination with the South Dakota Board of Regents,” Cwach said.

“The Board of Regents doesn’t want any of us to overreact, or any of us to under react. Those decisions are generally best made by a dispassionate group of professionals, which is our South Dakota Board of Regents,” O’Kelley said.

Due to the residence of safety protocols and mandates, expectations for a mass outbreak are low.

“We expect some students to get sick, and need to be isolated in a room, or perhaps return home. We know students will be exposed to COVID-19, which is why we are encouraging vaccinations through our vaccine clinics this week. We hope by offering free daily testing, students who have not been vaccinated will help mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Cwach said.

USD will be restarting the COVID-19 dashboard on its website. O’Kelley said he remains optimistic for this semester.

“In South Dakota, 36% of the 18 to 24 year old demographic is fully vaccinated. That’s our student population,” O’Kelley said. “We have an unknown number of people that have had COVID-19; those people presumably have enhanced immunity to COVID-19 including the Delta variant. That means 60 to 70% of our population is relatively immune.”

“We hope cases remain low and our students can fully enjoy the robust semester of in-person activities we have planned for them,” Cwach said.

USD has rescinded the mask mandate and the physical distancing mandate, O’Kelley said. The vaccine is readily available. USD will be offering the free vaccine the first week of classes. 

“We’re going to be offering vaccine because we believe vaccination is one of the key tools to prevent spread of COVID-19 among our student population. The best case scenario is that COVID-19 fizzles out because we killed it through vaccination,” O’Kelley said.