September 30, 2021
Our multilayered approach to mitigating risk during the pandemic
Submitted by Richard Myers, Charles Taber and Ethan Erickson
As we enter October, there are promising signs our multilayered approach to mitigating the spread of COVID-19 is working. This week's dashboard reports show a marked decline in positive tests and in the quarantine and isolation number on our campuses. Thanks to all who have worked to keep our campuses safe.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend a layered approach to reduce exposures to COVID-19. This approach includes vaccination, wearing face masks, hand hygiene, physical distancing and improved ventilation.
Of these methods, vaccination is the best way to mitigate risk for COVID-19 and we continue to strongly encourage all faculty, staff and students to get vaccinated. The university is currently offering incentive programs for students, faculty and staff members who self-report their vaccination status. We continue to see our overall vaccinated rate improve.
The temporary face mask policy for all indoor university spaces remains in effect until our host counties fall below the high or substantial risk category as defined by the CDC. We did this in response to a surge in cases nationwide, in Kansas and in our host counties due to the delta variant. There are signs the delta variant is peaking in our state and we hope to be able to lift the face mask requirement in the coming weeks.
While last year's requirement for faculty to disinfect classrooms between classes was relaxed based on data showing lower risk, custodial teams continue enhanced cleaning protocols for classrooms, office spaces and high-touch surfaces. Hand hygiene is also an important mitigation measure and we continue to provide hand sanitizer dispensers in all buildings.
While these measures are proving effective, one of the key learnings from the pandemic has been the importance of improved building ventilation as a way to further reduce the spread of airborne pathogens. Beginning last summer with classrooms and other learning spaces on the Manhattan and Salina campuses, the university has committed nearly $5.5 million of federal COVID funding to update HVAC systems to meet or exceed enhanced voluntary ASHRAE standards. To our knowledge, we are the only university in the state taking this step.
In preparation for classes this fall, we again analyzed ventilation in all classroom spaces on the Manhattan and Salina campuses through an external consultant. Results from that analysis indicate that most classroom spaces meet or exceed voluntary ASHRAE standards. Approximately 14% of scheduled classrooms on the Manhattan campus were identified as not meeting those standards, thus needing additional mitigation efforts. As a result, the university has installed dry hydrogen peroxide, or DHP, machines in those areas.
These efforts will continue in the future, with two additional phases of ventilation analysis to examine occupied spaces outside of classrooms. Phase 2 of the analysis is being conducted this fall and focuses on conference rooms and other large meeting spaces that have a capacity for more than 15 people. A third phase will be conducted beginning in the spring to review general offices and individualized spaces. Ventilation system upgrades will continue to be implemented throughout this year with available federal funding.
We will continue to review our multilayered approaches and adapt them as conditions change and evolve. The most important thing any of us can do is to get vaccinated, for yourself, your families, our university and our communities. It is clear that the COVID pandemic will last much longer than originally anticipated. We are learning to live with it and to thrive as we fulfill our land-grant mission of education, research, service and engagement.
Richard B. Myers
Provost and executive vice president
Chief financial officer and director of budget planning
Interim vice president and chief operating officer