With the fall semester coming to a close and the spring semester approaching, Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Melody Rose praised the system’s pandemic response thus far and signaled few changes to pandemic plans already in place during a meeting of the Board of Regents Friday.
“We are nine months into this pandemic, or so, and what was once thought to be a brief acute event has become a marathon,” Rose said.
Though there were early concerns over spread among college and university communities — especially among students — contact tracing conducted over the last few months has shown few, if any, cases of viral transmission on campus or during in-person instruction.
Instead, a vast majority of the spread among students and faculty has occurred off-campus, where transmission has largely ebbed and flowed with broader community spread.
“I guess the biggest message from the fall semester as we prepare for the spring is that if you follow the protocols, they actually work,” Nevada State College President Bart Patterson said. “The complication, of course, is that students don't always follow those rules, sometimes, specifically when they’re not on campus, and so that's the big challenge that we all have.”
Across the board, presidents at the state’s colleges and universities said they would continue to operate in large part as they had in the fall, utilizing, in part, limited in-person instruction, mandatory mask-usage and expanded cleaning protocols.
Some institutions have already planned for additional mitigation steps, especially amid some concerns that the pandemic may worsen before a vaccine becomes widely available sometime next year.
UNR announced in October that it would cancel its spring break, citing concerns of students returning while contagious, and Truckee Meadows Community College President Karin Hilgersom said that, while still optimistic, the college remained ready to switch to “100 percent” online instruction if necessary.
Still, as the state prepares to distribute the first wave of vaccinations this month and as hopes rise for broader vaccination through the spring, some institutions are also preparing plans to ramp up on-campus activity should conditions sufficiently improve.
“We must be prepared to pivot to a new normal,” CSN President Federico Zaragoza said. “Thus, if the environment permits, we are also planning to significantly increase our CTE [college credit] and lab-intensive courses as part of a late spring semester … if [spring] is a different environment, it will be a game changer for us, and that I think it'll allow us to also then ramp up some of the workforce efforts that we have developed.”