photo by Elisha Meyer
New signage has been put up in THOM and around campus, replacing last year’s Concordia Cares postings.
By Dorothy Cook
Concordia opens its 2021-2022 school year without a COVID-19 mask requirement, although students who have not been vaccinated against the virus are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings.
While Concordia does not require students to be vaccinated, students are encouraged to confidentially share their vaccination status with Concordia Wellness Center Director Andreea Baker.
The campus, like the rest of the U.S., faces a new threat from the COVID-19 Delta variant, which is quickly spreading and could jeopardize hopes of having a mask-free school year. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the Delta virus is more transmissible and infectious than the COVID virus people got at the beginning of the pandemic.
Laura McDougall, executive director of Four Corners Health Department based in York, said the Delta variant means the U.S. is “staring a new wave of COVID in the face.”
McDougall encouraged students to “take preventative measures when you are unsure of the safety of a situation.” She said it is a good idea to wear a mask and to wash hands, as well as to eat healthy and exercise.
The “Masks Required” signs put up during the last school year have been removed from buildings on campus but could return if COVID-19 cases continue to climb.
The CUNE health department will be monitoring COVID-19 case numbers and updating school regulations according to the green, yellow, and red protocols found on the Concordia Cares webpage. The protocols were created by CUNE’s Critical Incident Management team based on federal guidance.
Concordia since late July has been following the green protocol, where the campus is open to visitors, face coverings are encouraged but optional, social distancing is encouraged along with proper hand washing practices, and students are urged to create a personal COVID plan in the event they need to quarantine or isolate.
The yellow protocol requires face masks to be worn in indoor public places, dining hall self-services are discontinued, and dorms are limited to residents only. Yellow is implemented when about 5% of the CUNE study body is in quarantine.
Red means classes are all online, masks are required for indoor public areas, campus is open only for invited guests, nonathletic events are canceled, spiritual events go to half-capacity, and health appointments are done online. Red goes into effect when about 25% of the student body is in quarantine.
The webpage lists additional restrictions based on each protocol.
Baker reminded students to “be aware of where you are at and use your best judgment when it comes to wearing masks.”
McDougall said new COVID-19 case numbers in the Four Corners region doubled between late July and early August. The district reported 43 new cases in the two weeks ending Aug. 3.
“Some younger people are showing more severe symptoms,” McDougall said. “Our best tool is offering the vaccine to students.”
Senior Michael Grundstrom said whether to wear a mask on campus because of the spread of the Delta variant is a difficult decision because the science shows the COVID-19 vaccines protect against Delta for people who are not immunocompromised.
“But, the health officials also recommend that we should be wearing masks,” Grundstrom said. “Personally, I haven’t made up my mind yet on whether I will be wearing a mask or not. My hopes are that masks don’t become a political or divisive issue on campus.”
Concordia, in conjunction with the Four Corners Health Department, has tentatively scheduled a COVID-19 vaccination clinic for the first week of classes in an effort to keep students safe.
The Department of Health and Human Services of Nebraska said 2,575 people had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus from Aug. 1-7 but the percentage of vaccinated individuals continues to increase.
Concordia is working to keep up with CDC guidelines and will keep students and staff informed, making adjustments to school protocols as necessary. The campus will be going from an honor-based attendance policy to the pre-COVID-19 attendance policy requiring students to get a note from the Wellness Center to be excused from classes due to illness.