Faculty and students demand updated COVID-19 precautions



The BOR will not enforce a mask mandate at the request of several students and faculty members.

NIXSON BENITEZ, Executive Editor

Letter penned to BOR and administration expressing concern about  COVID-19

 On Jan. 12, faculty, staff and students with young children came together to form an open letter to the Board of Regents (BOR) and the three university presidents on the return for the spring semester.

The letter was promoted on Twitter and sent out and distributed in emails for people to sign through a google form. The letter included the COVID-19 positivity rates at the time. 

Black Hawk county has had a 42.7% increase including a 28.8% increase in Johnson County as well as a 24.4% increase in Story county. 

According to the Iowa COVID-19 tracker currently 59% of people are vaccinated and 25% are currently boosted in the state of Iowa. In Black Hawk County the numbers aren’t too far apart in regards to vaccination. 

The open letter stated, “With the Omicron variant now dominating new cases, this spread will certainly increase over the coming weeks. We continue to see hospitalizations on the rise throughout Iowa, including hospitalized children.” 

The letter continues, “Our campus and regents leaders can and must do more to protect our campus communities, with special attention to children of faculty, staff and students; these children are too young to be vaccinated or ineligible for COVID vaccine boosters.” 

Later on in the open letter the community requested a universal mask mandate, enhanced air quality and including paid leave options for employees who are caregivers impacted by COVID-19. In just two days the letter gained 288 signatures and supporters from community members, alumni and current/former faculty. 

An alumnus from the University of Northern Iowa Cassie Naaktegboren mentioned in the letter, “Many of my beloved teachers have been put in harm’s way due to the negligence of the Iowa Board of Regents.” Other community members wrote, “Having a return from break without any proof of (a) negative test result, while at the current positivity rates, is beyond risky to everyone on campus and within the community.” 

An assistant professor of biology from the University of Northern Iowan Ai Wen, Ph.D., who also ratified the open letter said in an interview with the Northern Iowan, “After teaching sort of online, and then hybrid, and for the past two years I really want to keep in- person (teaching). I think in order to do that, to be able to keep in-person for the students to get the best learning experience, we really need a mask mandate.”

Wen mentioned that although these steps are minor it is important to reduce the transmissibility of COVID-19 and other variants. Wen currently teaches biology and biology lab and mentions that the lab portion is difficult to replace virtually. 

“(For) Biology lab, I don’t want to train a whole generation of biology students that have never been to a lab then later on go on to be a doctor. I don’t want my doctor to have never seen a lab.” Wen said.

A student from the College of Business majoring in Economics: Quantitative Techniques Connor McGinnis also voiced concern. “A lot of people have gotten sick over the winter break, I got sick, returning home from travel. I think the university could do better by rolling out and encouraging more people to take a booster shot. I haven’t taken the booster shot myself, but I think it’s something that I want to do in the near future.”

Business Administration major Carsen Johnson said, “I think a mask mandate would be helpful, I would wear them. I mean, I wouldn’t be super excited about it because I’ve taken the steps to get my booster and everything, but I’d be okay with it.”

The BOR has received the letter and on the meeting of Jan. 12. President Michael Richard stated the Board’s COVID-19 guidance at the universities for the spring semester would not change. 

“We are all tired of COVID. But the single most important thing that anyone can do is get vaccinated. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.” President Richard said.

The BOR supports the COVID-19 vaccines and continues to strongly encourage all faculty, staff and students to be vaccinated. They express they want as many people to get vaccinated as possible as this is by far the best form of protection against COVID-19.

The Panther Health Survey is currently available to those who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, or have been exposed or unable to attend/report to class/work regardless of vaccination status. The Panther Health Survey helps navigate campus resources and services to individuals impacted by COVID-19.