COVID update

President José Luis Cruz Rivera hosted a town hall meeting Thursday afternoon to discuss the rapidly spreading Omicron variant. Just over a thousand viewers watched the meeting live to hear NAU’s plan for reopening campus safely for the spring semester. 

The panel of speakers, which consisted of health experts and NAU representatives, took turns addressing concerns community members had of potential COVID-19 infection during the upcoming semester. 

Associate professor and T-Gen North director David Engelthaler spoke on how Omicron cases have uniquely spread in Arizona. While rates of Omicron infection are lower in Arizona than other states, Engelthaler explained Arizona is just starting to process the variant and will soon experience a similar surge. 

However, Engelthaler said because the variant typically has mild symptoms the state is hopefully moving closer to an endemic — in which COVID-19 infections will remain steady and eventually become moderate. 

Moreover, Paul Kiem, NAU Regents’ Professor and Executive Director of the Pathogen and Microbiome Institute, spoke on new guidelines from the CDC which reduce the suggested time of quarantine for those infected by COVID-19 to five days. Kiem said he believes the statement was based on a blend of science and pragmatic reasons. 

“The country has been facing a real shortage of essential workers, especially in health care,” Kiem said. “If people are getting sick and you don’t have any nurses or janitors or what have you in the hospital, it’s going to just fall apart.”

Additionally, NAU administrators explained what students, faculty, and campus employees can expect during the spring semester. 

Vice President of Student Affairs Margo Saltonstall said students are encouraged to get tested for COVID-19 before returning to campus. For those unable to access tests before coming back to campus, appointments are available at the NAU Fieldhouse. NAU will continue mitigation testing, in addition to making masks available in residence halls. 

Furthermore, Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer John Mackey said NAU will follow the CDC’s recommendation to reduce the number of days staff has to quarantine to five. 

“After five days with no symptoms and at least 24 hours, employees will be cleared to return to in-person work with the stipulation that they do wear masks,” Mackey said. 

Those who missed the livestream of the president’s town hall can now view the recording on YouTube.

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