While many students returned home for the Christmas and New Year's holiday break, Auburn is continuing its efforts to fight the spread of Covid-19 by working closely with the Alabama Department of Public Health.
According to Dr. Fred Kam, director of the Auburn University Medical Clinic, the university is on track to become one of the locations in East Alabama that will receive Covid-19 vaccines.
“The first entity, obviously, to receive the vaccine supply is going to be the local hospital,” Kam said. “So in this case, (it) is EAMC (East Alabama Medical Center).
“We should be in the second round. As far as the specific time line, that is up in the air still.”
According to Ron Burgess, Auburn University’s chief operations officer, all decisions on the university level have always and will always be made in terms of what the best medical advice is.
“Before this recommendation, we will always advise what the best medical advice presents,” Burgess said during an Auburn Chamber of Commerce meeting last week. “We will always follow the advice of the CDC, EAMC and Dr. Kam here on campus.”
Burgess stated that the conversation on whether to continue classes online or move to remote-learning began at the height of the pandemic in March 2020. According to him, while the students were a major factor in the university’s decision process, Burgess wanted the community to know that another defining concern was the hundreds of Auburn residents who are a part of the University’s workforce.
“When we made the decision to send our workforce to work remotely, that was not an easy decision for one,” Burgess said. “For two, it was not something Auburn had done.
“We had to make adjustments for that — understanding what the federal regulations were going to be and figuring out how we were going to work after all this.”
Then, in June, the administration decided to take a major leap — campus resumed in-class sessions during the second mini-semester for those in specific programs that required more hands-on learning such as aviation, nursing or veterinary medicine.
And when members of the Auburn community looked to the administration for guidance on how this quiet endeavor would take place safely in the middle of a pandemic, according to Bill Hardgrave, provost at Auburn University, the answer to uncertainty lied in strict protocol.
“We did this so we would learn some things to prepare us for the fall,” Hardgrave said. “We learned a lot during that six-week period that would get us through the fall.
“The one thing that is certain during this time is the unpredictability. No one really knows what's in this fire — what causes the spread, how it's transmitted — but when you think back to July, when we were making these decisions for fall, we still didn't know what was going on.”
So, according to Hardgrave, the administration planned the best they could and with the help of state and local medical advice, Auburn was able to push forward with a contingency plan for the fall — offering in-person, online and mixed classroom settings for the thousands of students who were returning.
As the University prepares for the pending spring semester, the plan is still the same — handle things as predictably as one can in an unpredictable environment.
While Kam has no direct time line on when vaccine distribution will happen, he does confirm that Auburn’s status as a research university and access to electrical freezers will help in ensuring no obstacles are in place for vaccine distribution when the time comes. Kam also expressed support for the vaccines, noting that effects should be understood and expected as the it is given to more citizens.
“It would not get the licensing if it was not safe,” Kam said. “As we give it out to more people, there will be more reactions.
“However, we have a good idea that the vaccine is effective and safe.”
In recent news, the CDC has revised several guidelines pertaining to the quarantine time period. According to its website, the CDC currently recommends a quarantine period of 14 days. However, based on local circumstances and resources, quarantine can end after 10 days without testing and if no symptoms have been reported during daily monitoring. When diagnostic testing resources are sufficient and available, then quarantine can end after seven days if a diagnostic specimen test is negative and if no symptoms were reported during daily monitoring.
While Auburn has not made the actual adjustment in lieu of a pending spring semester, Kam believes that the new guidelines are a positive step in the right direction and encourages students to stay tuned to the A Healthier U website for more information.
Spring classes are currently set to begin on Jan. 11 with a modified calendar that replaces spring break with wellness days on Feb. 16, March 10 and April 1. Classes will end on April 22, followed by final exams from April 26 through April 30. The spring commencement ceremonies will be held May 1-3. As of Dec. 14, campus officials are now requiring that everyone on campus — in all indoor or outdoor spaces — wear a face covering, with the policy effective until further notice.
For those looking for more information, Kam encourages all to head over to Auburn University's Covid-19 Resource Center for updates about the university's response to the pandemic.