President M. Roy Wilson and Wayne State officials provided updates and answered questions from the campus community in a virtual town hall Tuesday.
Wilson began the event by addressing his email to the campus community on Monday regarding new CDC guidelines on face masks. He said although the basis for the updated guidelines is accurate, WSU may find it difficult to verify if individuals have been vaccinated.
“While I agree with the science, there are practical limitations to its implementation,” Wilson said. “There just simply is no way of validating who has been vaccinated and who hasn’t without some sort of vaccine documentation."
WSU has not mandated the COVID-19 vaccine, though a potential mandate remains under deliberation, Wilson said. The university will continue monitoring COVID-19 infection rates, vaccination rates and potential state legislation on vaccine passports to collect data which will inform its choice.
“We’ll make a decision based on all these considerations and make this decision with appropriate lead time prior to the fall semester. There just is simply no reason why we have to make this decision right now,” Wilson said. “We’re going to wait and see how things are going to pan out based on things we’re monitoring."
Associate Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Carolyn Hafner said employees will be abiding by Restart committee guidelines, which suggest a phased approach. She said employee supervisors should put logistics teams together to make the campus return safer and smoother for employees and students.
“We’re asking leaders to really take time to plan it out over the summer and bring back a few at a time so that by the beginning of the fall term we’re ready to go,” Hafner said. “We ask that leaders will carefully communicate with their staff to get an understanding of what the needs of the unit are and what are the needs of individual employees.”
Hafner said she expects the first wave of returning employees to be on campus as early as next month.
“I would say probably about the second week of June is our goal to have all the tools available, like the return to campus guide and flexible work arrangements and forms within the next two weeks,” Hafner said.
Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Laurie Lauzon Clabo said WSU will continue to abide by state and federal public health guidelines.
“For right now, social distancing guidelines will remain in effect in all campus buildings. But we expect this is very likely to change given the increasing number of vaccinations we’re seeing and decreased incidence of disease,” Clabo said.
Ramona Benkert, interim dean of the College of Nursing, said WSU will utilize strategies that have been in place since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We will continue to require the daily screener, even into the fall. We’ll continue to use the same processes that we’ve been using for the last 14 months as far as contact tracing, case investigation and tracking the data on Wayne State’s website,” Benkert said.
Hafner also addressed the issue of unvaccinated employees. She said staff should convey apprehension about working with unvaccinated coworkers in person to leaders.
“What I would certainly promote is lots of open, honest, candid communication between employees and their supervisors. We’re really asking for supervisors to really be sensitive to this concern,” Hafner said.
Associate Vice President of Facilities Planning and Management Robert Davenport said parking fees will be required during the fall semester.
“Come fall, yes. While we have enjoyed a bit of a reprieve during this pandemic period, we will go back to business as usual,” Davenport said.
Dean of Students David Strauss said a number of events are making a return over the summer, listing the locations where they will be available.
“Aug. 31, New Student Convocation and FestiFall will be back. We will be in person and outdoors on Gullen Mall and Keast Commons,” Strauss said. “Plans are in the works that in the coming weeks, student organizations will be able to reserve outdoor spaces next month. You will be able to gather on Gullen Mall, Linsell lawn, Keast Commons, or St. Andrew's plaza lawn.”
Wilson said individuals should continue following university guidance on face masks, reiterating the message from his Monday email.
“We’ll continue to keep you updated as information changes. Until then, stay masked if you’re indoors and I’ll see you soon unmasked,” Wilson said.
Irving Mejia-Hilario is the managing editor for The South End. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.