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The University of Nevada, Reno on Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

UNR President Brian Sandoval announced new details Tuesday outlining just which faculty and staff would fall under Tier 2 of the state’s coronavirus vaccination plan, a move that comes as higher education officials statewide anticipate the first widely available doses of the vaccine later this month — and amid lingering confusion over who will get the vaccine first. 

According to Sandoval’s letter, employees in the upcoming Tier 2 would include:

  • Employees and graduate assistants teaching “face-to-face,” including in so-called “HyFlex” or hybrid in-person/online classes
  • Employees and graduate assistants working on “critical or time-sensitive research projects that require face-to-face interaction or working in close proximity to others.”
  • Employees who must be on campus to “meet technical or support requirements to fulfill teaching or administrative infrastructure”
  • Employees who have multiple, daily face-to-face interactions with the public (i.e. cashier’s office, financial aid office, etc.)
  • Employees whose duties require them to be on campus in order to maintain campus infrastructure (i.e. cleaning staff)

The letter also said that Tier 2 would not include non-teaching student employees, and that a list of employees eligible for vaccination would be drawn up by university human resources only after determinations have been made by deans and vice presidents in accordance with state vaccination guidelines. 

Tier 3 vaccinations, expected to begin later this spring, are set to include the “remainder of [Nevada System of Higher Education] staff,” as well as students living in “campus-sponsored” residences. All others will be vaccinated as part of Tier 4, a group which includes otherwise-healthy adults (and subsequently, the remainder of the student body). 

A university spokesperson did not specify exactly where in that window Sandoval would receive his vaccination, but said that he would be “closer to the end,” as he will wait for a majority of faculty and employees to become eligible for a vaccine before electing to receive his. 

“The reality is that our institution must include those individuals whose duties require them to be on campus regularly who have face-to-face contact with other individuals,” Sandoval’s statement read. “As more vaccine doses become available, the hope is that our remaining tiers will receive vaccinations in a prompt and efficient manner … The vaccines are still a scarce resource and we cannot assume that once a person receives the proper doses that this will prove to be the end of this months-long pandemic. We still have a ways to go.”

The first vaccinations of Tier 1 workers, largely front-line healthcare workers, began last month and is expected to continue through this month. Tier 1 vaccinations have included a number of university medical workers “actively engaged” with coronavirus patients, though data from the CDC shows Nevada’s administration of the vaccine has so-far greatly lagged the number of doses allocated and delivered to the state — a problem plaguing state and local health departments across the country.  

Sandoval’s announcement came just hours after the Nevada Faculty Alliance chapter at UNR sent a letter to university administrators asking for clarity on the plan, especially as conflicting details emerged over who would and would not fall into the Tier 2 designation, and how such decisions were being made. 

Also among the NFA’s concerns: University deans and department chairs were tasked with prioritizing faculty with “student-facing activities other than traditional classroom teaching,” meaning guidelines would de-prioritize faculty who had been teaching entirely remotely through the fall because of underlying health conditions. 

Though Sandoval’s letter did not explicitly address these two points, it did note more generally that the university’s decisions were guided by three criteria: “Regular required physical presence as was the case before the Fall Break; face-to-face contact with students and other employees [emphasis Sandoval’s]; and necessary physical presence to provide a high-quality service on campus.”

The letter also notes that all campus buildings will open with the start of the semester on Jan. 25. That includes the E. L. Wiegand Fitness Center, UNR's sprawling on-campus gym that was closed down over the fall after at least 60 coronavirus cases were linked to the facility by contact tracing. 

As the rollout of two coronavirus vaccines has generally sputtered across the U.S. through December and now into January, reported coronavirus cases have begun to trend back upward across Nevada after dipping through the holidays. Hospitalizations, meanwhile, have remained relatively steady after peaking early last month. 

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