COVID-19 numbers continue to improve across the state.
"We're moving in the right direction," UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD, said during Tuesday's campus forum.
At the same time, he said, the U.S. is seeing an uptick in the more communicable B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant and some vaccine breakthrough; vaccines, however, remain highly effective and are strongly recommended.
Dr. Gold was joined Tuesday by Jane Meza, PhD, interim executive director for health security for UNMC and the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), and Chris Kabourek, vice president for business and finance and chief financial officer of the University of Nebraska. The forum marked the first in-person forum attendance since Feb. 24, 2020; it also remained accessible via Zoom.
With high vaccination rates across campus, UNMC has refined its COVID-19 guidance and now requires masks only in clinical and research areas, Dr. Meza said. Faculty, staff and students also are required to document -- using the Health Tracking System -- if they are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or have declined the vaccine. The process is similar to that used annually to obtain influenza vaccine information. In both cases, the data remains confidential and is used only in aggregate, Dr. Meza said.
Individuals who are not vaccinated or choose not to disclose must continue to wear a mask, Dr. Gold said, acknowledging that some may elect to continue to wear a mask especially if they, or a loved one, is immunosuppressed. "We need to respect others who fall into those higher risk categories," he said.
Nebraska Medicine and Children's Hospital & Medical Center, he said, are considering using stickers on name tags to indicate one's COVID- or flu-vaccination status. "Our patients are asking this question and it's not an unreasonable question to ask."
Beyond COVID-19, Dr. Gold and Kabourek discussed the University of Nebraska budget, which will go before the NU Board of Regents Friday. "The University as a system is in a position of strength, especially when compared to peers across the country," Kabourek said.
That's largely due to support from the state legislature and governor, strong enrollment numbers and plans that focused on student access and affordability, boosting compensation and addressing deferred maintenance needs. "We had very strong support from the legislature and governor on those proposals," Kabourek said.
As a result, NU will freeze tuition across the system and invest in strategic priorities including student aid, faculty competitiveness and building maintenance under a proposed 2021-22 operating budget announced by President Ted Carter. The budget continues a multi-year plan built last year by Carter and the chancellors to address fiscal challenges created by COVID-19 while also positioning the university for long-term growth and success.
The budget plan includes a 1.5 percent increase in the merit pool for non-unionized employees in 2021-22 and a 3 percent increase in the merit pool for 2022-23. The plan ensures that all NU employees -- unionized or not -- can earn 4.5 percent increases over a three-year period.
During the forum, Dr. Gold also noted:
- Project NExT is moving in the right direction. As funding is secured, he said, discussions will move toward site preparation, space planning and future enrollment growth, which could enable UNMC to top 5,000 students.
- The Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center received word of its highest score ever on reapproval of its five-year grant from the National Cancer Institute. "Kudos to Dr. (Ken) Cowan.who reminds me it's an affirmation of excellence."
- The recent dedication of the Munroe-Meyer Institute, which he called "an amazing facility," and the June 16 dedication of the Northwall Plaza, which features the light-reflecting sculpture titled "Convergence" by New York artist Jenny Sabin.
- The June 29 dedication of the Wigton Heritage Center will bring the "history of the med center to life." The UNMC community will be able to view the dedication of UNMC's new welcome center online.