By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
The University of Wyoming is planning for a fall semester with more in-person classes and fewer coronavirus-related restrictions, but this is contingent upon vaccine availability and acceptance, along with continued downward trends in virus infection numbers.
UW faculty, staff members and students living in residence halls are slated to be part of the group to be vaccinated under phase 1C group of the Wyoming Department of Health’s guidelines, so university leaders are optimistic for a more traditional semester this fall.
Additionally, there are indications all students may have access to the vaccine by late summer.
“Much could change between now and the start of the fall semester, including transmission of new variants of the virus and other unforeseen developments. However, we see great reason for optimism that we’ll have much more of a pre-pandemic campus environment this fall,” UW President Ed Seidel said. “Of course, it all hinges on the university community and the state adhering to public health guidelines to continue bringing down infection numbers and, especially, receiving the vaccine as soon as possible. At this point, we’re not requiring faculty, staff and students to be vaccinated, but significant voluntary vaccination will be essential for our plan to work.”
Under the plan, UW faculty and staff members would need to have access to the vaccine at least six weeks ahead of the scheduled Aug. 23 start of the fall semester in order for the semester to proceed with face-to-face classes at maximum capacity.
Additionally, relaxation of Wyoming Department of Health rules and guidelines regarding gatherings and classroom capacity will be necessary.
At this point, at least 70% of the UW community will need to be vaccinated to achieve necessary levels of immunity for the vaccine to have efficacy.
University leaders expect to have enough information on those matters in early June to make a final determination.
UW is collaborating with Albany County Public Health and Ivinson Memorial Hospital to administer vaccines to county residents who are in categories 1-3 of the phase 1B priority schedule.
It’s not yet known when Albany County will begin phase 1C, though.
All students are encouraged to receive the vaccine as soon as possible, based on their current locations.
As of Thursday, the total number of active coronavirus cases among UW students and employees stood at 15: 11 students living off-campus, two students living on-campus and two employees living off-campus.
The university is administering a rigorous testing program this spring semester for those spending time on campus, with undergraduates being tested twice per week and faculty, staff and graduate students being tested once per week.