The following message was sent to SMPH staff, students and faculty on March 10, 2021.
Recent policy announcements by our campus leadership, as well as from local, state, and national public health entities, have prompted many questions and requests regarding potential “in person” SMPH gatherings during the upcoming season of ceremonies and celebrations related to graduation and other important milestones. All of us are eager to resume in-person interactions; however, this situation is very fluid and we want to summarize the current SMPH approach to this important issue.
From the start of the pandemic, the SMPH has placed the safety of our staff, students, and faculty as the top priority in considering how and when to consider in-person vs. virtual operations. We recognize the vital importance of our clinical, research, and educational missions, and seek to advance them in ways that mitigate as much as possible the risks to individual and population health during the dynamic state of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the pandemic evolves, our approach will continue to be shaped by the following principles:
- Safety first, both for our SMPH community, as well as for their families, whose health may be impacted by our decisions.
- Strict adherence to specific mandates from our university and from applicable local, state, and federal government agency orders.
- Reliance on data to drive our decisions.
- Equity across SMPH groups.
We anticipate that our campus leadership will provide guidance regarding graduation related events soon. We will follow all specific features of that guidance, while applying the principles listed above in areas that are open to subjective interpretation and flexibility.
Currently, the major COVID-19 metrics, while improving, remain of great concern. Our national and Wisconsin 7-day new case rates are higher now than they were at graduation last year. While we are extremely thankful that several safe and effective vaccines are being administered, many of our staff, faculty, and learners do not yet have access to vaccines. The emergence of variant strains that are even more contagious is a troubling issue that warrants careful monitoring.
We will continue to share with you COVID-19 related SMPH policies and processes as they evolve. In regard to the recent campus announcement that individual schools and colleges may consider granting an exemption from restrictions on a case by case basis: we are creating a form that can be completed to make such a request, and will distribute it to department and other unit administrators soon. We anticipate that for the immediate future, exemptions will be very rare, and will be considered only when necessary for the fulfillment of an important clinical, research, or educational goal that cannot be adequately achieved through virtual programming.
We look forward to the day, in the not-too-distant future, when we can return to a “new normal” in which we safely interact in person.
Robert N. Golden, MD
Robert Turell Professor in Medical Leadership
Dean, School of Medicine and Public Health
Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs