The hope is that the national rollout of COVID-19 vaccines provides renewed hope for a way out of the pandemic. But, Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD, reminded us at Tuesday's virtual all-campus forum, "Hope is not a plan."
"We are going to be dealing with these pandemic related challenges well into the foreseeable future," he said. And, not just masking, distancing and the like, but, "Behavioral health," the chancellor said. "Emotional wellness."
"We are far from being done with this virus," said Ted Cieslak, MD, interim executive director for health security.
"We're all in this together, and we're going to continue to get through this," Dr. Gold said.
Dr. Gold reaffirmed that safety and wellness have driven every decision made at the medical center since the pandemic began, and will continue to do so. That includes a COVID-19 vaccination effort currently underway.
"Our clinical partners at Nebraska Medicine have done a fabulous job at immunizing our community," said Dr. Cieslak, calling the clinics a "well-oiled machine."
The campus clinics have vaccinated 600-1,200 people a day, Dr. Cieslak reported.
Several questions and comments focused on a subset of the UNMC community -- students who are primarily in a pre-clinical, didactic or nonclinical research setting -- that is not yet included in the top tier prioritization groups provided by the State of Nebraska. As a result, Nebraska Medicine, which receives its allocation from the state, is unable to schedule all of these students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as it has, thus far, for clinical students, faculty and employees.
At this time, the distance learning, purely didactic, pre-clinical or non-clinical research students, totaling several hundred in number, are encouraged to register with the state to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Sign-up opportunities are currently available on the Douglas County website and will be available as early as this Thursday on the state's website. (See campus leaders advice in the sidebar at right.)
Drs. Gold and Cieslak have pledged to meet with student leaders to hear their concerns and answer questions. Watch for more information on this topic.
"We will continue to fight and advocate for you, as the vaccine process continues to evolve." Dr. Cieslak said.
In the meantime, he said, students in pre-clinical, didactic and non-clinical research settings are encouraged to look for other opportunities for a vaccine, and if they get one, to take it. Dr. Cieslak has the same advice for everyone: don't wait. The medical center does not have any first dose clinics planned after Feb. 3.
"When your turn comes up, get the vaccine."
But even when you do, nonpharmaceutical interventions must continue to be followed: "We still need to set an example for the community," Dr. Gold said.
Does vaccination mean an end to working from home at UNMC?
"Flexibility is the name of the game," Dr. Gold said. Some jobs will require an on-campus presence. Still, we've shown we get the job done, even remotely, he said. "We've not lost any ground, and in many important ways, we've gained ground."
Employees will not be required to receive a vaccine prior to returning to work on campus. Campus decisions will be made by overall safety conditions, not individual vaccination status.
The forum also addressed:
- The state has been allocated about 95,000 doses a month, which is why it could take five or six months to vaccinate CDC groups 1B and 1C. Following the initial rounds of vaccination, county health departments will take over complete control the effort.
- The Nebraska Public Health Lab is looking for new with important protein changing mutations of SARS-CoV-2 in Nebraska, Dr. Gold said.
- Already had COVID-19? CDC recommends individuals still get vaccinated.
- Ongoing construction projects are on time and on budget. MMI is moving into its new world-class facility on Pine Street in the coming weeks.
- The Board of Regents celebrated the leadership of Regent Howard Hawks and welcomed incoming Regent Jack Stark, PhD.
- Enrollment continues to grow, Dr. Gold said. The College of Public Health reported that 30 percent of its incoming class is students of traditionally under-represented groups.
- In addition to enrollment, extramural funding is up and clinical activity is stable. Budget news looks good heading into the legislative session.
- The regents are working on a bylaws change regarding administrative leave. The UNMC Faculty Senate has played a crucial role, Dr. Gold said.
- UNMC is working closely with the Biden administration on multiple levels.
- Extramural research funding was up 26% last year, a historic increase for UNMC.
- UNMC played a key role in the return of sports during the pandemic, from college athletics to Major League Baseball, Dr. Gold said.
- Dr. Gold thanks everyone involved in Strategic Planning, and asks for their feedback to contribute to strategies for the next three-year period.
- Sheritta Strong, MD, director of inclusion, continues "phenomenal" leadership in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion, Dr. Gold said.
- The overwhelming majority of systems have been restored following last year's cyberattack, but, "It still caused a tremendous amount of internal pain and suffering that has not been completely extinguished at this point. Our IT team continues to work diligently." Dr. Gold said.
- Project NExT's momentum is "extremely significant." It continues to look good on a federal level, and the medical center has secured written agreements for more than $335 million in private funding, with handshakes that are expected to lead to several hundred million-plus more in private funds. This is in addition to the state funding committed in LB 1184 last summer.