Not Your Average Back-to-School Note

Director Vince Durnan shares a not so average back-to-school note as USN begins the 2021-2022 school year.
But here goes. The excellent COVID-19 trend lines of just a month ago, kind of the opposite of what we saw a year ago at that point, have given way to numbers that appear to have grabbed the attention of both public and private sector. Our fair state is even running TV messages to encourage vaccination, at long last. Meanwhile, preparations for a safe and healthy full return to in-person classes at USN continue, with an indoor mask requirement for all, for now, as the most noteworthy adjustment. And, we now have plenty of company in that decision.

If you’re looking for reasons to be upbeat about the path forward, let me offer these as a starter:
  • Our reported school community COVID-19 vaccination rate appears to be remarkably high, with the vaccines providing robust protection against infection and even greater protection against serious illness even if infected. It’s worth noting that epidemiological data suggest that protection against reinfection with full vaccination is a multiple of what’s generated by any natural immunity from acquiring an earlier infection.
  • With so many eligible family members also already vaccinated, we can better bubble the under-12 students to effectively prevent exposure in the interim before they become vaccine eligible.
  • We have ample evidence that school is absolutely possible in masks, even for the youngest in our classrooms, and we’re acclimated to hand hygiene and other basic measures to support our collective health on campus. 
  • It appears that the intensity of the delta variant spread may generate a more rapid path through the wave it creates, so we don’t need to assume that the mask measure will be necessary for the duration of the year— we will modify as appropriate.
For the moment though, let me underscore both the importance of getting our community vaccinated and the importance of informing our Health Team about that status via the student records on the Magnus platform. That data set will likely help us make key determinations in the weeks ahead as we establish a form of herd immunity while the wider world works through this pandemic of the unvaccinated. If we each resolve to do what we can, being thoughtful about where we go, what we do, and with whom, we can, and from all evidence will, make possible a great start to the school year, putting the immunity in community.

You’ll notice us adjust the events calendar to support these aims. Much as it’s fun to see everyone gather en masse just before classes resume, we’re putting the popsicle party on ice for now. And you’ll notice us keeping any group size to a maximum of a hundred people or so, and we’ll move socializing outdoors wherever that looks viable.

I know there’s an element of déjà vu in all this, but stop for a moment to think how far we’ve come in a year, how different things are, with effective vaccines in hand and six months’ experience getting our shots. Together, at our scale, we can do remarkable things — that much is a fact. Each of us thinking about all of us is the strategy. 

Looking forward to getting the big USN gears turning, with our new faculty joining today (and an amazing group it is). I’ll be a little less visible for a couple weeks as the remnants of my summer vacation medical journey metabolize out, but I know it’s just a matter of time. Guessing that’s true in a broader way as we address the public health conditions at hand. Go Tigers.

Stay tuned in, stay committed, and stay well,


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