• By Alyson Heisler

Minot State responds to coronavirus

On March 20, 2020, Minot State University announced that the remainder of the spring semester would be delivered remotely due to the increasing severity of the coronavirus pandemic. Students moved out of residence halls and moved home for their classes. Summer classes continued with online instruction.

The State Board of Higher Education passed a resolution in support of the North Dakota University System (NDUS) campuses resuming in-person activities for Fall 2020 on May 29, which was also the day Gov. Burgum announced that schools and businesses could reopen in coordination with the state of North Dakota being reduced to a low risk level.

On June 4, students were told that campus would be “open and operational for the fall semester with a mix of on-campus and online courses available.”

“Last spring and over the summer, the students made it very evident that they wanted to give this a try and that they could be responsible so everyone could be safe,” Kevin Harmon, vice president for student affairs, said.

Administration, faculty, and staff members focused on planning for students to return to campus safely in June, July, and August.

“One of the issues we faced in Ward County is that we had so few cases in the spring and summer. We didn’t have a whole lot of examples to use on how universities who had experienced higher numbers responded because everyone shut down early last semester,” Harmon said.

They began creating a set of COVID-19 policies by taking notes from the practices and protocol of other institutions in the upper Midwest and across the United States.

“I was constantly scanning the policies and protocols from other universities. I would look at 15 to 20 universities’ policies every day to see what they were doing and keeping an eye open for something that was fresh and new,” Harmon said.

Harmon specifically evaluated universities in highly populated states like New York and California to find effective solutions.

“I looked at the policies of universities in other states to learn more about how they are trying to serve students on their campus. It was reverse engineering of what we thought the problem would be, then trying to develop solutions to those problems and apply that to our situation,” Harmon said.

Students returned to the Minot State University campus on Aug. 24. Safety protocols that have been put in place on campus include social distancing, mandated masks, and a reduction of the number of seats in classrooms and across campus.

“With students on campus, we’re solely focused on trying to provide the best experience in either the classroom or online (HyFlex), but also the safest experience,” Harmon said. “Most everything that we’ve implemented has been done for the safety of our students, faculty, and staff — that’s the principle that keeps us grounded on a daily basis.”

The entirety of the Minot State Beavers Restart plan is available on the Minot State website at minotstateu.edu/covid/. The current protocols, developed by Faculty Senate, coincide with the guidelines given by the North Dakota Department of Health and the governor’s office — with the added safety precautions of mandated masks.

“We have a mask mandate on campus, which the state of North Dakota does not, so we probably exceeded the color code for the best interest of campus safety,” Harmon said.

Currently, the implemented element of the restart plan is more closely aligned with the moderate risk (yellow) category. As of now, Ward County has been deemed a low risk (green) level.

A ticker of the coronavirus cases at Minot State is also included on the coronavirus webpage. The number of positive and recovered COVID-19 cases are updated daily, along with the number of close contacts being monitored or in quarantine. As of this writing, there are 92 active cases and 324 students, faculty, and staff in quarantine due to close contact.

If an on-campus student tests positive for the coronavirus or is being monitored, they will quarantine in Dakota Hall, which has become the dedicated building for student isolation and quarantine.

“Every day we are monitoring the needs of our students — both on and off campus — and providing basic services like monitoring the healthcare of on-campus students who may not be feeling well, communicating with their instructors, delivering meals to residence halls, and communicating with family members,” Harmon said.

Academically, students have adjusted well to the changes and implementations to improve safety, but the social element of being on a college campus has become an issue.

“I’ve been very impressed and encouraged by how our students have responded to our masking and distancing policies in the classroom Monday through Friday, but a challenging part of this equation is the evenings and weekends that lend themselves towards the social side,” Harmon said.

In the first few weeks of classes, more positive cases have been arising through on-campus testing sites, likely in connection to closer social settings after hours.

“It’s certainly coming from those situations where students are with their roommates or close friends and are not observing masking or distancing,” Harmon said. “If we become lax at all, we will not be able to continue to be here on campus as we are right now, face-to-face.”

Students need to remember to follow the coronavirus protocols every day to maintain the safe campus environment.

“All the work that we’ve done since March, our policies and protocols, are certainly being tested every day. We learn new information because of new situations, we adapt, and we try to provide the best experience on a day-to-day basis,” Harmon said.

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