The Northwest College Board of Trustees voted Monday to leave COVID-19 response measures in the hands of the college’s administration, which would allow more nimble responses as the spread of …
The Northwest College Board of Trustees voted Monday to leave COVID-19 response measures in the hands of the college’s administration, which would allow more nimble responses as the spread of the disease changes.
The college’s incident command team developed a plan in March 2020, which followed guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control, Wyoming Department of Health and Park County Public Health. At the time, NWC switched to online instruction for most of its classes and required masks for anyone on campus.
In the spring 2021, the college moved to fewer restrictions, including restoring in-person instruction and lifting the mask mandate.
This summer, as vaccination rates plateaued and case rates increased, the incident command team began reevaluating whether or not tighter restrictions needed to be implemented. The team decided to maintain the relaxed restrictions, while allowing for what it calls “operational flexibility,” so the restrictions could be increased or decreased as needed.
“The plan is the plan. And the thing about plans is sometimes you need to be able to change them,” NWC Interim President Lisa Watson explained at this month’s board meeting.
The college is not planning any mask or vaccination mandates at this time. There are some social distancing and cleaning measures in place, but Watson said she’s watching case numbers closely, especially as variants that are believed to be more infectious are spreading.
One of the considerations that goes into the level of restrictions, Watson said, is what students are willing to accept.
“A year ago the country just shut down, and now we’re not looking at it like that as an option,” Watson said.
The college conducted a survey of 1,339 students, and at the time of the board meeting, 483 responded. Of the respondents, 74% said they’d prefer a rolling mask mandate over online instruction.
In an interview, NWC Communications Director Carey Miller said a short-term, rolling mask mandate is a situational requirement, as opposed to a blanket mandate in place throughout the academic year; a rolling mandate can be in place for a time period, rescinded, and then put back in place, as needed.
Of those students who responded, 40% were fully or partially vaccinated, while the remaining 60% either weren’t vaccinated or elected not to answer the question.
NWC staff and faculty were also surveyed, and at the time of the meeting, 133 of 280 had responded. The same portion of the respondents preferred the rolling mask mandate to online instruction, and 73% were fully or partially vaccinated, including 79% of faculty.
“That’s really amazing,” Watson said of the vaccination rates among the college’s employees.
Watson noted that, with such a strong preference for avoiding online instruction, it would be in the college’s best interest to accommodate the preference if it is to “stay open and operational.”
Trustee Tara Kuipers thanked Watson for having the forethought to gather the data, which helps the institution make informed decisions.
Watson pointed out that the college has been wrestling with the risk of this disease for well over a year while remaining operational.
“We got this figured out. It doesn’t mean people will not get sick. We know that,” she said.
Nonetheless, circumstances can change, and so Watson asked the board members if they’d feel comfortable with her altering the plan and adding restrictions as needed, without every change coming before the board for approval.
The board voted unanimously to grant Watson that authority.
As of Friday, NWC officials said there were 17 active cases of COVID-19 within the campus community, with another 11 people in quarantine.