The COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt life throughout the world. Most recently the Omicron variant has swept the United States, now accounting for over 95% of all new COVID-19 cases.
The variant was first detected in Missouri on Dec. 3 and in Greene County on Dec. 17.
We remain in constant contact with federal, state and local health officials. Preliminary data suggests several facts about the Omicron variant:
- It is milder but more contagious than prior variants.
- An individual who contracts the Omicron variant has a lower risk of being hospitalized or experiencing serious COVID symptoms than prior variants.
- However, because the Omicron variant is so contagious, its wave has dramatically increased COVID-19 infection and hospitalization numbers in most communities it impacts.
Public health officials have warned us that we will see large numbers of students, faculty and staff contract the Omicron variant in January and early February.
Plan to be flexible
As we prepare for the spring semester to begin on Jan. 18, I want to update you on the protocols that will exist on campus to mitigate spread of the virus and remain operational as our campus experiences the Omicron variant wave.
We do not plan to change the overall modality for classes, but faculty should be prepared to work with their department head and dean to make temporary adjustments as needed.
These adjustments could include moving a seated class to Zoom for a week or two, rescheduling labs and experiential learning opportunities to later in the semester, and the like.
Faculty must gain approval from their department head (in consultation with the dean) before making any temporary adjustments to course delivery due to COVID. Faculty should also be prepared to accommodate the large number of students who will contract the virus and miss class meetings and assignments.
Flexibility for employees
We do not plan to implement widespread work-from-home arrangements as we did in 2020.
However, between now and mid-February, supervisors should be prepared to be flexible in accommodating large numbers of absences by employees who have tested positive, are awaiting COVID-19 test results, or are caring for family members who have tested positive or are awaiting test results.
To facilitate this flexibility, we have implemented a temporary policy providing employees with up to eight (8) additional days of paid COVID-19 leave. Our Guiding Principles for Employee Return to Campus continue to provide good guidance for supervisors managing through the Omicron wave.
Events on campus
Organizers of university events and meetings scheduled to occur between now and mid-February should implement appropriate mitigation measures.
These measures could include rescheduling an event to later in the semester, moving a live meeting to a virtual format, relocating an event or meeting to a larger space to facilitate social distancing, requiring masking at an event, and the like.
Contact the COVID-19 Response Team if you need assistance in determining what mitigation measures are appropriate.
We will begin the spring semester with the same campus masking policy in place as we had last semester. We will reevaluate this policy in mid-February.
In addition to this policy, organizers of university events and meetings scheduled to occur between now and mid-February will have discretion to require masking at their event regardless of whether the event is scheduled to occur in an academic building listed in the temporary masking policy.
Save the date for town hall meetings
We will have a virtual town hall meeting 10-11:30 a.m. Jan. 14. I will update you on COVID-19 data, discuss our plans for the spring semester, and answer questions. Please plan to attend.
Find information about how to participate.
We will have a follow-up virtual town hall meeting two weeks later at 3:30-5 p.m. Jan. 28.
Thanks for all you do for Missouri State!
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