The University of Wyoming is looking at a return to normal for the 2021 fall semester, but that goal will depend on how many students and staff accept vaccines and how widely COVID-19 is spreading by summer, president Ed Siedel told the Board of Trustees on Wednesday.
“There’s a downward trend in the number of cases on the national level and we’re seeing that on campus as well,” Siedel said, adding that cases are “down by a factor of 10” on campus from their peak in November.
Just 13 COVID-19 cases were active Wednesday among UW students and staff.
While declining cases is a positive indicator for what the fall semester might look like, Seidel stressed the largest hurdle will be getting students vaccinated.
Seventy percent of students, faculty and staff will need to begin vaccinations at least six weeks before the fall semester begins Aug. 23, “in order for the semester to proceed with face-to-face classes at maximum capacity, face-to-face student engagement programs, in-person athletics experiences and the like,” a Feb. 15 memo to students and staff reads.
That 70% mark is what epidemiologists and public health experts say would be necessary to ensure if a non-vaccinated person became infected with the virus, it would not spread throughout campus.
Trustee Macey Moore asked if skepticism toward the vaccine would create a challenge for reaching that 70% threshold.
Seidel said that has been a concern, but the university is planning a wide-ranging public information campaign to dispel misinformation about the vaccines.
Wyoming is currently in the early stages of Phase 1b of its vaccine priority schedule, which outlines what populations will receive a vaccine while supplies remain limited.
Most counties are working through vaccinating residents 65 years or older and certain front-line workers, including K-12 staff and child care providers. But Siedel said he hopes faculty and staff will be eligible for vaccinations in about six weeks.
Wyoming is working through its available vaccine doses faster than most other states, having administered more of its first doses than two-thirds of the rest of the country. Still, supply remains a hurdle and experts say they’re unsure when that supply will ramp up.
President Joe Biden has promised 300 million vaccine doses — which would cover much of the nation — will be administered across the U.S. by the end of July.
Follow health and education reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @m0rgan_hughes