A little over a year ago Aug. 31, 2020, Northwest was in dire straits because of COVID-19. The University had 189 positive cases in a single day, and the outlook for continuing the semester was bleak. This year, however, with a low case count and high bed availability on campus, Lt. Amanda Cullin, a member of the Crisis Management Team 2, said she is something many have not been able to be in the past 18-plus months — optimistic.
“I think we are on a positive trajectory,” Cullin said. “I think number-wise we are doing as well as can be expected.”
A continued “positive trajectory” could bring the end to the mask mandate sooner rather than later. University President John Jasinski’s initial email announcement of the mandate hinted at it being a temporary measure.
With the upcoming holiday weekend, cases are expected to rise locally, Cullin said. Labor Day weekend is the first three-day weekend of the semester, and many students will use the opportunity to go home for the first time. Travel, in the past, has been linked to an increase in cases. COVID-19 case counts reached record highs during the holidays last year, but nothing that large is anticipated for Labor Day.
Cullin said the CMT 2 continues to meet formally once a week and stay in communication throughout the week to examine COVID-19 data “holistically.” The team looks at case rates, vaccination rates, ICU bed availability and more regularly.
President of Mosaic - Maryville Nate Blackford said Mosaic is still seeing significant challenges relating to patient care even with the lower case count. There has been an increase in respiratory illnesses relative to normal years, Blackford said. However, the hospital is seeing improved bed availability in recent weeks.
As of Aug. 25 — the most recent date with available data for publication —, there were 13 active cases of COVID-19 at Northwest, and as of Aug. 30, bed availability for those in quarantine and isolation was at 98.95%. The Nodaway County Health Department reported 17 new positive cases of COVID-19 Aug. 30, 12 of those cases were in the 10-29 age group.
Cullin said she attributes the low case rate to mitigation efforts and compliance from the community, which she called “supportive,” and vaccinated individuals, a crucial demographic that didn’t exist during August 2020’s dramatic spike.
It’s difficult for the exact amount of vaccinated individuals on campus to be known, Cullin said. The mass vaccination clinics held on campus last semester did not have records go to Northwest or the Wellness Center. So, even students vaccinated in the Carl and Cheryl Hughes Fieldhouse would not have a record automatically submitted to University Wellness.
The Wellness Center has been tracking vaccination rates of Northwest students through lottery enrollment for incentives, including a $10,000 scholarship and various other prizes. At the time of publication, over 32% of on-ground students had submitted vaccine records to the Wellness Center.
On-ground students at Northwest are likely vaccinated at a higher rate than the surrounding community as a whole, Blackford said in a previous interview with The Missourian. At the end of August, Nodaway County’s percentage of fully vaccinated individuals was 45%.
“Ideally we would get to that 70% or higher goal,” Blackford said. “Whether or not that’s realistic in the next month, I’m not sure.”
There has been a slight increase in those initiating the vaccine since Pfizer’s full FDA approval over a week ago, Blackford said. Moderna completed its submission of data for full FDA approval Aug. 25.
Once again, Cullin said currently, Northwest has no plans to implement a vaccine mandate at this time.