We’re really almost there

Please read carefully for an update from Director Vince Durnan on what to expect next from USN's response to the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s the long-anticipated message on USN shifting to mask optional across the campus. 
By Vince Durnan, Director

Here’s the long-anticipated message on USN shifting to mask optional across the campus. We’re closing in on the two-year anniversary of the abrupt shift to remote just before Spring Break, and at long last, the public health conditions augur toward this milestone declaration. Of course I’m conspicuously aware that schools locally and statewide made this move weeks or maybe months ago, in a combination of exasperation, exhaustion, and mistrust of CDC guidance. But now it’s our turn.
 
A little by way of background: our Medical Advisory Group continues to meet faithfully each week, assessing conditions at USN and in Nashville. The precipitous decline of new case numbers, following the meteoric rise to record levels in mid-January, is a welcome sight. It looks like we’ll be at pre-omicron case numbers in the very near future, providing a solid basis for confidence that the wave is past. The same holds true for USN experience. We saw a more than tenfold increase in positive tests last month relative to anything in the prior semester, and now that’s all back down to a couple new cases per day.
 
Back in November we were deep into a discussion of how best to transition to mask optional, starting with our highly, highly vaccinated High School, and then the new variant hit. Now we’re back to that point, and the topic is back in view. What’s different since the last time we talked mask optional is the number of students in grades K-6 who are fully vaccinated (nearing 90%) and the number of students who now have the immunity help granted by being a recent positive. Combine that with our faculty and staff vaccination rate north of 98% and similar figures for students in grades 7-12, and we’re in a tremendously strong position relative to other organizations and relative to any prior point at USN.
 
No doubt you’ve seen the emerging body of commentary about the need for schools to get back to something more like normal — with the caveat that we do so once we’re back to pre-omicron data. Going mask optional is a central part of that transition, but with the simultaneous understanding that for a host of reasons people may choose to continue wearing a mask, and that will probably be part of a new longer term normal. So let’s remember to factor that reality into our expectations, and let’s offer each other some grace and respect for whatever households choose to do next. I can’t help offering the observation that the pandemic has taken a toll on our patience, our tendency to judge, our good tempers, and our capacity to worry about others — this will be a chance for a reset in those respects.
 
So look for a message in the next week or so from our Health Team, in concert with Divisional leadership, about exactly how, where, and when we’ll lift the mask mandate at school — my aim here is to share in advance the reason why. And to offer sincere thanks for your partnership though this whole public health marathon. I’m not sure we would have thought we could do it if we knew all this in advance back on March 13, 2020, when the curtain fell. Let’s file this experience away as proof that our school community can do amazing work, together.
 
And a Happy Valentine’s Day to you,
Vince                                                                             
 
And a big P.S. Part of the return to life as we knew it and to cherished seasonal events is the return of Evening Classes, slated to resume on February 24, as part of the broader process of relaxing mitigation measures in light of the landscape changes referred to in this message. So sign up early and often, and watch USNA programming back in action.                                                  
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