Unlike many college students across the Boise Valley and throughout the nation who have been confined to dorm rooms or bedrooms for fall semester, students at NNU have been predominantly in face-to-face classes since August 31. They will finish the semester this Thursday, Dec. 10 just as they started: in person.
“At the beginning of the summer, NNU had one primary objective and that was to allow students to safely return to campus for the entirety of fall semester for the exceptional face-to-face classes and in-person community NNU is known for,” NNU President Joel Pearsall said. “Our NNU community has worked together this semester to live into our ‘Community First’ pledge, implementing necessary health protocols to keep NNU healthy and open and thinking of others before self. We are just days away from achieving that objective as we celebrate the completion of our semester—together!”
The ability to have students on campus engaging in face-to-face learning is due, in large part, to the innovative asymptomatic saliva screening NNU implemented early-September as part of their COVID-19 health protocols.
“We know that our saliva screening is our first line of defense and is a key element in helping us keep our campus open as we continue to provide the best in-person educational experience possible,” Vice President for Academic Affairs and Chair of the 2020-21 COVID Planning Team Brad Kurtz-Shaw said. “We are cautiously optimistic that it will continue to help keep our campus open and safe as we move into 2021.”
The SalivaDirect protocol that NNU is using to conduct the saliva screening was developed at Yale University and is being carried out by trained NNU undergraduate research assistants under the supervision of Dr. Jennifer Chase, NNU professor of biology. All screening is able to be done on campus utilizing equipment the university already owns. In mid-November, the campus pivoted from weekly screening of campus members to Monday-Thursday screening. Since the screening began in early September, over 17,000 screens have been conducted.
“This new, more accessible, more affordable surveillance screening helps us to proactively monitor and assess the on-going health of our campus community and provides for early identification of potential infection, often even before someone is showing symptoms,” Dr. Bryon Hemphill, director of health services, said. “This allows us to care for those impacted quickly and mitigate the possible spread of the virus early.”
It was this asymptomatic screening that alerted university officials to an increase in possible cases in early November. This provided administration the data they needed to be able to issue a proactive “stay-in-place” directive before there was significant community spread. The proactive measure successfully interrupted the spread of the virus and helped reverse the trend in cases, allowing the university to return to face-to-face classes for the remainder of the semester.
“We know that rapid detection of asymptomatic infected individuals is critical for helping NNU prevent COVID-19 outbreaks within our community and allowing us to continue face-to-face instruction,” Hemphill said. “Our saliva screening gives us this ability which, in turn, empowers us to implement proactive measures that can interrupt chains of transmission.”
NNU is the only university in the Boise Valley that has been predominantly face-to-face the entire semester, with plans to start Spring 2021 fully in-person on January 12. At Boise State University, according to their website, approximately 40 percent of their courses are currently fully online or remote. College of Idaho opened fully online August 19 and, according to their website, classes are “predominantly distance learning with limited hybrid classes” with plans to start the spring semester of 2021 in the same modality.
Updates will continue to be provided at nnu.edu/fall2020.