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UWRF updates COVID policies

September 17, 2021

Students have arrived back on campus to start classes for the fall semester. Although UW-River Falls is reaching for a “normal” academic year there are noticeable adjustments to how the campus will be functioning. 

As of Sunday, Aug. 22, UWRF requires face masks in all indoor spaces and environments where a six-foot social distance is not possible. This policy went into effect regardless of vaccination status and will continue throughout the fall semester. Professors will be allowed to remove masks while teaching classes, considering they can keep that six-foot physical distance in between themselves and the students. The UWRF Interim COVID-19 Related Health and Safety Rules policy document defines a face covering as “a piece of cloth or other material that is worn to cover the nose and mouth completely, also referred to as a ‘face mask.’ A ‘face covering’ or ‘face mask’  includes but is not limited to a cloth face mask, a disposable or paper mask, a neck gaiter, or a religious face mask. A ‘face covering’ or ‘face mask’ does not include face shields, mesh masks, masks with holes or openings, or masks with vents.” The policy is in place until September 30 and is set to be reviewed and revised on that same date. 

Students and employees looking for accommodations to the face mask requirement are directed to speak with Human Resources and Ability Services, according to the policy. The document also states exceptions for this requirement such as eating and drinking in public spaces, physical activity outdoors, or whenever alone in spaces such as residence halls or office spaces. Within the policy, it states that students and employees who are granted this exception on a case-by-case basis are not subject to explaining this arrangement. 

The testing process has made some small changes on campus since last semester. Tests are now self-administered with registered nurses standing by to guide those being tested through the process. According to Janis, the test that is being used this semester, although administered differently, is the same as the test used throughout the Spring semester. Testing is still free to all students, faculty, and community members and is open to everyone regardless of vaccination status. 

Previously starting on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 10 percent of all unvaccinated students and staff were randomly chosen to be tested weekly. As of Sept. 16, according to an email sent out to campus from Chancellor Maria Gallo, the policy has been updated. The policy now states that all unvaccinated students must be tested weekly if they live on or come to campus at all. The only ways to avoid mandatory weekly testing is to be fully remote or vaccinated. Debrah Janis, the Director of Student Health and Counseling discussed the repercussions that occur if students do not cooperate with the testing policy, “Students could ultimately be referred for disciplinary action under the Student Code of Conduct for repeat testing violations.” She mentioned that prior to this students would receive emails and reminders about their obligation before any action is taken. 

 As of Sept. 15, the testing data provided shows that 1,118 students have been tested since beginning the required testing. Some of those tested were not required but did so out of concerns for symptoms. There have been 62 antigen-positive tests – all of the students. The seven-day positivity rate as of Sept. 16 on campus is 5.5 percent, while in Pierce County it is 7.7 percent. 

At the forefront of all COVID-19 initiatives on campus is the COVID-19 Operations team. Chancellor Maria Gallo heads the team and is joined by Provost David Travis,​​Tricia Davis, Debbie Janis, Dina Fassino, Beth Schommer, and Joe Kmiech. As of yesterday, the Student Government Association President, Bridgette Ledferd, was added to the group to act as student representation. This group will meet weekly and connect with a variety of members across campus to stay on top of policies and any changes that occur.

To encourage cooperation and vaccination amongst students the University has initiated a new campaign called “Protect the Nest.” According to the University’s website, the campaign focuses on motivating students to “VaxUp Falcons” and “Protect the Nest” to keep the community safe. The Protect the Nest website page lists benefits of getting vaccinated such as not having to quarantine if you are exposed to someone with COVID-19 and a list of incentives provided by the University. If students are vaccinated they are told to upload an image of their vaccination card to the vaccine portal on the UWRF website. Once they do that they get a water bottle and enter into a chance to win two mopeds, an apple watch, a Nintendo switch, seven $1,000 scholarships, and ten $100 Falcon Dollars certificates. The website also provides a link to a vaccine locator and vaccinated percentage meter. The meter, as of Sept. 16, said that 56 percent of students and 78 percent of employees are vaccinated. 

UWRF is also participating in the UW System’s 70 for 70 campaign. Once a campus reaches a 70 percent vaccination rate, those students are entered in a drawing for one of seventy $7,000 scholarships supported by the UW System. 

The University is not mandating vaccination for students and staff at this time but they are highly encouraging vaccination. They continuously mention Pierce County Public Health with whom they are working closely to keep policies as up-to-date as possible. The University will be hosting pop-up walk-in vaccination clinics on Thursday, Sept. 23, and Monday, Sept. 27, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Falcon’s Nest at the University Center.