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August 21, 2021

Dear Mavericks,

We begin the new academic year together with a renewed sense of excitement and optimism, though perhaps tempered for some by the ongoing concerns of the pandemic. I wanted to share precisely what we are doing, and why, to ensure transparency regarding our pandemic response.

I believe we have a moral obligation to continue to challenge, educate, empower and support your critical thinking and help you make responsible choices to keep campus safe.

So, what's our campus approach toward COVID-19 this year?

  • CMU is strongly encouraging that you receive a vaccine. Please know while we encourage all students, faculty and staff to protect themselves and others with the vaccination, there are evidence-based and other reasons that keep us from taking the extra step toward a mandate at this time. We will offer several on-campus vaccination clinics. You can also get a vaccine from the county. By uploading your vaccination record, you will be entered to win up to a full semester's scholarship plus a multitude of other awards.
  • CMU is practicing "Mindful Masking" and following CDC guidance and recommending that masks be worn in indoor spaces. We ask that all members of the campus community respect one another's decision to wear or not wear a mask. We will continue a layered approach of best practices of COVID-19 prevention to include education on mask-wearing, testing, spacing when needed, cohorting, upgraded air filtration, symptom screening, cleaning, disinfecting and handwashing.
  • CMU remains in constant communication with the campus' Public Health and Medical Advisory Group, including local and national partners. Dr. Amy Bronson continues leading the effort as she has done for the last 18 months, including CMU's new Infectious and Communicable Disease Committee.  As things progress, we will continue to utilize new technologies, develop new strategies and ways to manage the pandemic.
  • Our decisions and recommendations are based on data, empirical evidence and science. As conditions on the ground evolve, we will too—just as we have demonstrated during the past academic year. The Delta variant of COVID-19 continues receiving considerable national news coverage. Mesa County has managed this emerging challenge since March when the Delta variant became the dominant strain in our community. Mesa County's second surge did not arrive until the spring of 2021, though with an intensity of less than half that of last fall. Cases here peaked the third week of May and have been steadily declining since the third week of June (please see the below graphic). Mesa County Public Health officials believe cases will continue to decline as the region acquires protective immunity. Health officials tell us that we are quickly approaching the suspected threshold for so-called herd immunity, knowing that we could see a few upticks with the start of school, social behavior changes or holiday gatherings.

    This protective immunity concept is vital to understanding our approach. Effectively, the national narrative has focused on vaccinations as the only pathway to developing protection against COVID-19, while ignoring the natural immunity conferred in individuals who have had the virus. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recognizes a few peer-reviewed studies about this specific topic of reinfection. The early studies do validate what we have observed both on campus and in Mesa County. Those who have overcome the virus are unlikely to be reinfected a second time, according to the CDC. After the surge late last fall, CMU saw cases plummet throughout the spring and experienced no documented reinfections—with the benefit of one of the best data sets in the country. In Mesa County, we have had 86 reinfections out of 18,489 cases (or a reinfection rate of 0.47%). This is a similar level of protection we have seen with the vaccines here. As of August 13, 2021, out of 59,078 individuals in Mesa County fully vaccinated, we have had only 503 breakthrough cases (or a breakthrough rate of 0.85%). The evidence is painting a clear picture: both the vaccine and natural antibodies resulting from former positives are extremely effective in preventing serious COVID-19 infections. Both vaccines and former positive cases confer strong protective immunity when calculating our campus' relative risk and exposure to COVID-19. CMU is using a very conservative calculation indicating that campus will have a range of 80%-90% protective immunity heading into fall term. Mesa County Public Health has reviewed our data and agrees with our conclusions.

    Cases of COVID-19 by Week of Illness Onset in Mesa County
  • CMU is providing students, faculty and staff three options for returning to campus/start of fall:
    1. Get vaccinated and demonstrate proof of vaccination;
    2. Demonstrate prior COVID-19 infection by uploading proof of a past positive COVID-19 PCR test or antibody test, or;
    3. submit to ongoing COVID-19 testing.

Moving Forward

CMU will continue testing unprotected individuals. Contact tracing and isolation/quarantine protocols will persist. CMU's innovative wastewater monitoring efforts will be ongoing and we will send test samples to the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT for genomic sequencing to determine if reinfections, breakthroughs or new variants emerge. CMU remains vigilant in the analysis of data and evidence and is committed to principles that remain intact despite evolving conditional considerations.

A year ago, our approach collided with popular conventional wisdom. We remained open while others went to online classes, no sports, no residence halls, etc. We paid attention to data and evidence and listened to public health and medical advisors. We built key state and national partnerships that allowed our campus to safely thrive.

Our principles are sound. Our plan is bold. The data at this point is clear. And our team is outstanding and ready to adapt to change. I am grateful for your trust in CMU. We will need to remain steadfast together as we enter yet another difficult phase of the pandemic.

As always, we will remain in constant contact with the campus. If you have any questions please reach out to [email protected].

Best,

John Marshall
President
Colorado Mesa University