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UW Prepares For Spring Semester In Midst of COVID

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

With the start of the spring semester just one week away, University of Wyoming students returning to campus are reminded that a limited contact period begins Thursday and extends through Jan. 31.

Additionally, students and employees are expected to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance upon returning from winter break, including reducing nonessential activities for up to 10 days and being tested for the coronavirus three to five days following their return to campus.

The semester will begin with two days of online-only instruction Jan. 21-22, and face-to-face classes will start Jan. 25.

For students living on campus, the residence halls will open Tuesday, with students arriving on assigned dates between then and Jan. 24.

Students living off campus should take a coronavirus test before returning to in-person classes or activities on campus.

During the limited contact period, students are allowed to attend in-person classes, participate in work and worship engagements and be outside but are expected to limit their in-person contacts to people living on the same floor of a residence hall or the same apartment/residence.

“These measures are necessary to give us a chance to be successful in providing a safe face-to-face engagement on campus amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Cases are on the rise again in Wyoming and across the country, and it is important we do our part to mitigate that spread,” UW President Ed Seidel said. “We’re very hopeful that, with vaccines being administered to targeted populations now and wide administration expected by this summer, our fall semester will be much more in line with pre-pandemic practices.”

As was the case during the fall semester, UW will continue measures throughout the spring to limit the spread of COVID-19, including a rigorous testing, quarantine and isolation program, requirements for face protection and physical distancing and limits on gatherings.

Students, faculty and staff coming to campus or returning to work will be required to participate in UW’s surveillance testing program, using UW’s laboratory-developed, saliva-based tests.

Students not returning to campus at any time during the semester will not be required to participate, but need to receive testing exemptions. Students living on campus, working on campus and taking in-person classes are automatically included in the testing program and will receive emails to schedule their tests once the semester begins.

Undergraduate students who are part of the surveillance program will be tested twice per week. Graduate students and employees will be tested once per week.

UW employees and students will continue to be expected to use the COVID Pass tool daily to self-screen for coronavirus-like symptoms. Those who are noncompliant with the testing requirements will receive a “red” flag similar to an individual with symptoms, restricting access to campus.

The spring plan approved by the UW Board of Trustees calls for a semester that includes 10 weeks of in-person instruction, a three-day spring break and five weeks of fully online classes to conclude the term.

In addition to the abbreviated March 31-April 4 spring break, no classes will be held on Presidents Day, Feb. 15.

Starting April 5, all classes will move to online delivery, with the final day of classes May 6 and finals week will take place May 10-14.

The university is working with the Wyoming Department of Health and Albany County Public Health to make coronavirus vaccines available as soon as possible to mitigate transmission of the virus and allow the other preventative measures to be more effective.

It’s uncertain when all students and employees will have access to the vaccine.

As a result, the move to online-only course delivery following spring break follows the same rationale for the decision to go online during the fall semester following Thanksgiving break: to help minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission that would be caused by students leaving campus and then returning.

While close to 40% of UW courses currently are slated to be delivered fully online in the spring, up from the historical figure of 15%, about 60% are planned to include in-person components during the Jan. 25-March 30 period.

The in-person classes will continue to be held in classrooms that are arranged to meet physical-distancing requirements, along with enhanced cleaning measures.

Under the plan, the university continues to track and monitor a set of key indicators of coronavirus prevalence on campus to support data-based decision-making. These include the total number of symptomatic cases among students and employees, testing sample disease prevalence, capacity for isolation and quarantine and hospitalizations.

Since the pandemic began, UW has reported a total of 1,865 cases of COVID-19 among its employees and students, with 1,846 people recovered.

As of Thursday, there are 19 active cases: one on-campus student, nine off-campus students and nine employees.

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No Fans Allowed at UW Cowboys Games Until at Least Jan. 25

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Fans won’t be allowed to attend any University of Wyoming sporting events until at least Jan. 25, according to a recent announcement from the university.

The limits follow the most recent Wyoming Department of Health orders, which limits gatherings of more than 10 people, the university said.

Only a limited number of family members of student-athletes and coaches, along with essential personnel working the events, will be allowed to attend events through Jan. 25, the announcement said.
 
These guidelines apply to all UW Athletics events.
 
The initial public health order affecting UW Athletics events, as well as many other public events throughout the state, was originally set to expire on Friday, but Gov. Mark Gordon left the order in place through Jan. 25.

UW stopped allowing fans at athletic events in December, after Gordon and state health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist issued new health orders, which included a statewide mask mandate and limitations on both indoor and outdoor crowds.

The order limiting gatherings does not apply to religious facilities, funeral homes, residential buildings or grocery stores. Nor does it apply to retail businesses as long as patrons remain at least six feet away from one another. 

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UW Acquires Medical Facility For COVID Testing, Vaccine Distribution

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The University of Wyoming purchased a medical facility adjoining the campus where coronavirus confirmatory testing and the eventual administration of the virus’ vaccine will take place.

The purchase was made possible through the use of federal CARES Act funds.

The acquisition of the Mountain View Medical Park building at 2710 Harney St., for the appraised value of $8.4 million, also consolidates the university’s land ownership on the northeast end of campus and provides space for UW’s WWAMI Medical Education Program and other future health sciences and related program needs.

The purchase includes the 31,255-square-foot, two-story building and 5.12 acres. The current tenants of the facility, medical and dentistry offices for several local firms, will remain in the building under existing leases that extend for two more years.

UW already is putting the facility’s unused space to use for its coronavirus confirmatory testing, with plans to administer the coronavirus vaccine there to members of the UW community when it becomes available.

“We appreciate the governor’s allocation of CARES Act funding to make this purchase possible and address some immediate needs related to the pandemic,” UW President Ed Seidel said. “The acquisition also will provide long-term benefits for the university due to the location, it’s surrounded by UW-owned property, and our need for future space for our programs.”

In fact, UW has been leasing space in the building for the WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho) Medical Education Program to use for instructional activities.

College of Health Sciences Dean David Jones said the facility could be a home to other programs envisioned in the college’s long-term planning.

“While this purchase will meet an immediate health care need, we’re excited about the opportunities it presents for the future,” Jones, who oversees sample collection for UW’s rigorous COVID-19 testing program, said. “It’s a wonderful facility in a great spot for us. We deeply appreciate the governor’s quick action to take advantage of a great opportunity.”

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UW Survey Shows Wyoming Residents Approve Of University’s Path To Success

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A large majority of surveyed Wyoming residents believe that the University of Wyoming provides a strong undergraduate education, prepares students to participate in the state’s workforce and is an appealing place for Wyoming students to attend college, new survey results show.

Additionally, 64% of Wyomingites surveyed believe the UW is spending its budget wisely and 60% say the university does an excellent or good job responding to the needs of the state, according to the biennial election-year survey conducted by the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center.

Asked to rate the university the same way students are graded, 31% of respondents gave UW an “A” and 37% offered a “B” rating, with the average of all responses equating to 3.10 on a scale of zero to 4.0.

This year’s statewide telephone survey of 614 Wyoming residents was conducted in October, with cellular and landline phone numbers randomly selected to ensure equal probability of selection for all Wyoming residents. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

“We’re delighted that the people of Wyoming regard their state’s university highly,” UW President Ed Seidel said. “We intend to do everything we can to build on that foundation and increase our educational and research excellence, as well as our level of service to the state, during a time when the state needs us perhaps more than ever.”

UW received particularly high marks in the survey for the quality of education students receive.

Of the respondents, 23% rated UW’s performance as excellent an “providing an excellent undergraduate education,” with 45% rating it good (68% combined, up from 64% two years ago).

Asked to rate UW’s performance in “educating young people to participate in Wyoming’s workforce,” 19% said it was excellent and 42% said good (61% combined, 1 point higher than two years ago).

Asked “How well do you think UW appeals to Wyoming students and their families as a desirable place to attend college?,” 26% responded excellent and 61% said good (87% combined, up 2 points from two years ago).

Just 7% said “fair” and 1% said “poor.”

Asked if UW has steadily improved during the past several years, 60% expressed agreement (down 2 points from two years ago).

The percentage of those who believe UW is spending its budget wisely is 63% (up 6 points from two years ago), and 69% agree that UW and the state’s community colleges are working together to provide high-quality education for Wyoming students (down 2 points from two years ago).

Most of the survey respondents, 86%, didn’t have a degree from UW. Of those who did, 49% rated the quality of their UW educational experience as excellent and 43% as good (92% combined). Asked about the relevance of their educational experience, 43% rated it excellent and 44% good (87% combined).

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UW To Refund Some Fees To Students Due To COVID Impact

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The University of Wyoming is going to disperse partial refunds to full-time students due to the impact of the coronavirus.

Each full-time student taking classes on the Laramie campus will receive a total of $141.17 credit to their UW account for fees that were previously charged for athletics, music/theater and recycling because the pandemic largely eliminated the opportunity to attend events and receive those services.

“The fall semester was unusual in so many respects, and the student experience was altered by being unable to attend in-person athletics and cultural events,” Vice President for Student Affairs Kim Chestnut says. “We’re happy to be able to provide this refund in recognition of the fact that students didn’t receive what they normally would for these particular fees they pay.”

The university limited many events and activities, such as all of the athletic events, due to the pandemic. UW also operated on a phased opening system over the previous semester, meaning students were allowed to return to campus in waves.

By phase four, though, the university moved all of its classes online for the last few weeks (some classes were already fully online for the semester) to prevent the continuing spread of the virus.

The UW coronavirus rules have required everyone on campus to wear face coverings except when in private spaces, maintain physical distancing, use the COVID Pass tool, submit to regular coronavirus testing and to implement enhanced cleaning measures across campus.

Testing, contact tracing and isolation/quarantine remain an important part of the phased return plan.

Classes began as planned on Aug. 24, but were all held virtually for the first few weeks of the semester, and the student population in Laramie was capped for a time.

By mid-September, some classes went back to in-person instruction and more students were allowed on campus.

On Wednesday, the university announced plans for the spring semester that included 10 weeks of in-person instruction, a three-day spring break and five weeks of fully online classes to conclude the term.

To mitigate the impact of possibly infected students returning to campus from across the country, the plan includes a “limited contact period” for students Jan. 14-31.

During that period, students will be allowed to attend in-person classes, participate in work and worship engagements, and be outside, but will also be expected to limit their in-person contacts to people living on the same floor of a residence hall or the same apartment/residence.

While close to 40% of UW courses currently are slated to be delivered fully online in the spring, up from the usual figure of 15%, about 60% are planned to include in-person components during the Jan. 25-March 30 period.

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UW Spring Semester Plan Approved By Board Of Trustees

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The University of Wyoming Board of Trustees on Wednesday approved a plan for the spring 2021 semester that includes 10 weeks of in-person instruction, a three-day spring break and five weeks of fully online classes to conclude the term.

The semester will begin with two days of online-only instruction on Jan. 21-22, and face-to-face classes starting Jan. 25.

Following an abbreviated spring break that will run March 31-April 4, all classes will move to online delivery, with the final day of classes set for May 6 and finals week to be held May 10-14.

Working with the Wyoming Department of Health and Albany County Public Health, UW will implement an emergency shift to fully remote instruction and student programming with limited in-person operations, or to take other actions, if warranted by major changes in conditions.

To mitigate the impact of possibly infected students returning to campus from across the country and beyond, the plan includes a “limited contact period” for students Jan. 14-31. During that period, students will be allowed to attend in-person classes, participate in work and worship engagements, and be outside, but will also be expected to limit their in-person contacts to people living on the same floor of a residence hall or the same apartment/residence.

As was the case during the fall semester, UW will continue measures throughout the spring to limit the spread of the coronavirus, including rigorous testing, quarantine and isolation programs, requirements for face protection and physical distancing and limits on gatherings.

“Based upon our experience in the fall semester and our testing program, which is one of the most advanced in the nation, we are confident that we can be successful with an on-campus experience in the spring semester,” UW President Ed Seidel said. “But our success depends upon compliance with our testing protocols and other requirements. We’re counting on all members of the UW community to do their part.”

The university intends to make coronavirus vaccines available as soon as possible to mitigate transmission of the virus and allow the other preventative measures to be more effective. However, it’s uncertain when students and employees will have access to the vaccine.

As a result, the move to online-only course delivery following spring break follows the same rationale for the decision to go online during the fall semester following Thanksgiving break this semester.

“We reinstituted a spring break in response to many requests by our students,” Seidel said. “We would have liked to plan for a full semester of in-person instruction but, considering the uncertainty about the timing of the vaccine and about the extent of the pandemic at the end of March, we think it prudent, at this point, to not bring students back after spring break.”

Additionally, no classes will be held on Presidents Day, Feb. 15.

While close to 40% of UW courses currently are slated to be delivered fully online in the spring, up from the usual figure of 15%, about 60% are planned to include in-person components during the Jan. 25-March 30 period.

The in-person classes will continue to be held in classrooms that are arranged to meet physical-distancing requirements, along with enhanced cleaning measures.

“We expect the spring semester will look much like the fall semester and, as a result, we understand it will present difficult circumstances for many of our students,” Seidel said. “Our spring plan puts a particular emphasis on student emotional health and well-being. We are dedicated to making sure they have the support and services they need to be successful.”

Students, faculty and staff coming to campus or returning to work will be required to participate in UW’s surveillance testing program, using UW’s laboratory-developed, saliva-based tests.

Students not returning to campus at any time during the semester will not be required to participate, but they need to receive testing exemptions.

For students moving into UW’s residence halls, coronavirus testing will be required the morning of their move-in date. For students living off-campus who plan to participate in on-campus activities, testing will be required the first week of classes beginning Jan. 25.

Students who return early to campus for university-sanctioned activities will be required to test upon arrival.

For employees who are returning to work after being away from campus, testing will be required the week before their return to on-campus work.

Those returning directly after the winter break will be tested during that week and self-isolate as much as possible until a negative test result has been received.

Employees who plan to work from home or fully self-isolate on campus throughout the semester will not be required to take part in surveillance testing.

Undergraduate students who are part of the surveillance program will be tested twice per week, while graduate students and employees will be tested once per week.

UW employees and students will continue to be expected to use the COVID Pass tool daily to self-screen for coronavirus-like symptoms. Those who are noncompliant with the testing requirements will receive a “red” flag similar to an individual with symptoms, restricting access to campus.

Under the plan, the university will continue to track and monitor a set of key indicators of COVID-19 prevalence on campus to support data-based decision making. These include the total number of symptomatic cases among students and employees; testing sample disease prevalence; capacity for isolation and quarantine; and hospitalizations.

There are no automatic actions to be triggered by hitting certain indicator thresholds, but UW will continue to coordinate closely with state and local authorities to assess conditions in the community and determine appropriate interventions.

Since the pandemic began, UW has reported a total of 1,812 cases of COVID-19 among its employees and students, with 1,797 people recovered.

As of Wednesday, there are 15 active cases: two on-campus students, 10 off-campus students and three employees.

With the end of the fall semester last week, only a small number of students remain in UW’s residence halls, and many traditional-age students who were living off campus in Laramie have returned to their homes around the state, the country and beyond.

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UW Survey: Mask Use Was On Rise Before Gordon’s Mandate

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Even before Gov. Mark Gordon enacted a statewide mask mandate this week, mask usage among Wyoming residents was already on the rise, according to a University of Wyoming Survey.

This was just one of the findings from the latest survey conducted by the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center.

The survey was conducted Monday, with a majority of data collected before the announcement of the mask mandate Monday afternoon.

Just over three-quarters (76%) of surveyed Wyomingites said they wear masks always or often when visiting indoor public places, an increase from 69% in early November and 61% in early October.

Only 6% of Wyoming residents now report that they never wear masks when visiting indoor public places, while 9% say they rarely wear masks in this situation.

“At the time of the survey, roughly half of the counties in Wyoming had recently enacted face mask mandates,” said Brian Harnisch, senior research scientist in charge of the project at WYSAC. “Self-reported mask use in those counties, those that say they always wear a mask in indoor public places, was roughly 20 percentage points higher than those without a mandate.”

Support for an ordinance that requires those in their communities to wear masks when visiting indoor public places was at 63% when the survey was conducted Monday, similar to the 62% support measured in November.

The survey is the 11th of multiple surveys WYSAC is conducting to measure public opinion on a number of topics related to the coronavirus.

A total of 519 Wyoming residents participated in the survey representing all Wyoming counties, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

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No Fans Allowed At UW Athletics Events Until At Least January

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

No Cowboy fans will be allowed at any University of Wyoming sporting events until at least early January, the university announced on Tuesday.

Tickets will not be available for any athletic events until at least Jan. 8. Following this date, approval will have to come from the Wyoming Department of Health.

This announcement comes after Gov. Mark Gordon implemented new health orders until at least Jan. 8 requiring people to wear face coverings in all public spaces, both inside and outdoors. In addition to this, crowd sizes were limited.

The governor reduced the number of people allowed in gatherings to 10 or fewer. Indoor facilities may allow more than 10 people to be at their locations, but may allow no more people than 25% of the facility’s capacity.

Outdoor facilities may also allow more than 10 people on-site, but must limit the number of people to no more than 50% of capacity.

The order limiting gatherings does not apply to religious facilities, funeral homes, residential buildings or grocery stores. Nor does it apply to retail businesses as long as patrons remain at least six feet away from one another. 

Fans who purchased tickets to the UW men’s basketball game versus Omaha on Dec. 17 will receive refunds.

For men’s and women’s basketball games scheduled from Dec. 13 to Jan. 8, only team family members will be allowed to attend via the NCAA complimentary admissions process.

UW Limits Sports Attendance After COVID Cases Rise

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The University of Wyoming is reducing the number of fans who will be allowed to attend home football and basketball games until at least the end of the year.

Football attendance is being reduced to 5,000 fans allowed in War Memorial Stadium, down from the 7,000 allowed at previous games, for the remainder of the season.

Attendance at UW basketball games at the Arena-Auditorium will be set at a maximum of 2,000 fans per game through the end of the year.

These attendance numbers equate to 17% capacity for both structures.

The decision to reduce attendance grew out of a desire to keep fans, student-athletes, coaches, UW staff and community members as safe as possible during the recent increase in coronavirus numbers in Albany County and the state of Wyoming, university officials said.

Fans attending Cowboy and Cowgirl Athletics’ events are reminded that face coverings are required throughout the University of Wyoming campus at all times, including when attending games.  The mask requirement will be enforced at games by game management and law enforcement/security personnel.

All tickets sold through the UW Athletics Ticket Office will incorporate social-distancing guidelines when determining seat locations. 

UW Athletics, in connection with the Wyoming Department of Health, will continue to evaluate appropriate attendance numbers at UW Athletics’ events based on overall coronavirus conditions.

The Western Thunder Marching Band will not perform at the remaining home football games this season.  With the university moving to online instruction earlier than anticipated, all in-person classes, ensemble rehearsals and performances have been suspended.  

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UW Board Of Trustees Approves $42M Budget Reduction Plan

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The University of Wyoming Board of Trustees approved a plan Thursday to cut the university’s budget by $42.3 million.

This budget cut was driven by a 10% cut in state funding that resulted in an immediate reduced distribution from the state earlier this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The board voted Thursday to accept the plan presented by President Ed Seidel a few weeks ago in response to cuts imposed by Gov. Mark Gordon as a result of a dramatic downturn in state revenue.

The plan affects both academic and nonacademic units of the university and will eliminate 80 positions.

On the academic side, the plan eliminates 57 positions. On the nonacademic side, 23 positions will be eliminated.

Additionally, colleges and schools will reduce their support budgets, including travel and professional development, and operations budgets.

Housing, dining, catering and conferences will be reorganized for greater efficiency and productivity.

The Department of Athletics will reduce salaries and cut team travel costs. The Office of the Provost will cut about 35 graduate teaching assistant positions and reduce spending on global engagement travel and operations.

“These reductions are not easy, and they certainly affect the ability of units of the university to perform critical functions. They will lead to reductions in the academic programs we are able to offer,” Seidel said. “But we’re doing everything we can to minimize the impact to our students; optimize the research we conduct to boost our state’s economy; and, where possible, strengthen the service we perform for the citizens of Wyoming.”

“The university has reached a point where future loss of teaching faculty and staff support cannot be addressed by asking our remaining employees to simply assume yet more responsibilities,” he added.

In light of the decrease in state funding, the trustees also voted to increase the standard tuition rate by 6% for the 2021-22 academic year. This applies to both undergraduates and graduates and both residents and nonresidents.

However, it doesn’t apply to programs with differential or market-based tuition rates, which are set separately.

Even with the increase, UW’s tuition rates remain among in the country.

The increase, which was supported by the Associated Students of UW, is expected to generate about $3.2 million annually, based on current enrollment numbers.

Over 20 low-enrollment academic programs have been identified for review for potential reorganization, consolidation, reduction or discontinuance, with the potential to save $2.5 million annually. They include:

  • In the College of Arts and Sciences, the bachelor’s and master’s degree programs and minor in American studies, the master’s program in psychology, the bachelor’s program in journalism, the master’s program in teaching in chemistry, the master’s program in teaching in history and the master’s degree in creative writing would be eliminated;
  • In the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the master’s and Ph.D. programs in agronomy would be eliminated, and the community development concentration in agricultural economics would be refocused to more closely align with the strategic plan;
  • In the College of Business, minors in accounting, decision science, finance, human resource management and marketing would be eliminated the Master of Business Administration energy concentration would be suspended. Additionally, the business administration online bachelor’s program would be replaced with a human resources management online program;
  • In the College of Education, the bachelor’s program in secondary French, German and Spanish education would be eliminated;
  • In the College of Engineering and Applied Science, consolidation of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Department of Computer Science would be considered;
  • In the College of Health Sciences, several curricula would be overhauled, and
  • In the College of Law, the military justice/Judge Advocate General’s Corps track and the Summer Trial Institute would be eliminated.

The finalized academic reductions are slated to be presented to the trustees in February.

“We know that elimination of some programs will be necessary to effectively pivot the university through shared governance processes toward a new vision that will enable us to become a best-in-class 21st century land-grant university true to its Wyoming roots,” Seidel said. “We are committed collectively to making decisions to prioritize specific programs for growth; others for elimination or consolidation; and creating new programs that may be needed to realize our common goals.”

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