Spring semester and vaccine rollout update

Jan. 5, 2021

This message was sent to students, faculty and staff at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Dear Wolf Pack Family,

The start of a new year holds new possibilities and promise for all of us and our University.

With the advent of vaccines that are being distributed throughout Nevada, there is added reason for optimism as we start 2021.

A new semester is just around the corner. On Monday, Jan. 25, all of our buildings on campus, including the E.L. Wiegand Fitness Center, will be open again as we begin spring instruction, which will continue our “HyFlex” mode of delivery as was the protocol for the Fall Semester. This instruction mode includes in-person lab classes, studio classes, HyFlex classes, and a small number of entirely in-person lecture classes.

Administrative faculty and staff, both those working on campus and those working remotely, should continue with current work schedules and location assignments in their existing manner, unless otherwise directed by their division vice president and/or dean. Student workers should coordinate directly with their supervisors. If remote work can be accommodated, it should continue to be allowed for the Spring Semester.

Rollout and implementation of the vaccine

As we prepare for the new semester, we have also learned more about the rollout of vaccines to the people of Nevada and what that rollout will mean for the students, faculty and staff of our institution. The State of Nevada continues to receive limited doses of vaccines from the federal government. Vaccines are being distributed through Washoe County through the use of a tiered priority system.

The University is now finalizing implementation of its campus-wide plan as to how employees are to be categorized for the tiers. It is important to note that vaccine availability is still limited. Thus, the University must work within the tiered structure provided by the State of Nevada to ensure that frontline workers on our campus receive these early doses. We are following State of Nevada definitions and recommendations developed from guidance from the CDC and the Nevada State Immunization Coalition. Gov. Sisolak has stated that vaccine distribution throughout Nevada is based on scientific data, key ethical principles and federal recommendations. He has said that the goal of the plan is to "mitigate as much disease spread and loss of life as possible."

According to the State of Nevada, “Tier 1” includes frontline workers such as University medical personnel who are actively engaged in patient care. First doses of Tier 1 vaccinations for this group began to be administered in late December and will continue to take place until at least Jan. 11, 2021.

Tier 2 includes “Education and Childcare Staff” and “Nevada System of Higher Education Frontline Faculty/Staff.” “NSHE Frontline Faculty/Staff” includes anyone employed by NSHE and physically working on campus with face-to-face contact with other individuals (see definition below) during the Spring 2021 Semester. For University purposes, “Education and Childcare Staff” only includes those personnel working in person at a childcare site on campus and those students actively teaching in a K-12 environment as part of their studies.

Tier 3 includes “Remainder of NSHE staff” and “students living in campus-sponsored residential settings.” Tier 3 includes faculty who are teaching remotely in the spring or not working on campus in person until the Summer 2021 Semester.

Tier 4 includes otherwise healthy, general student body and all other healthy adults. Vaccination availability for Tier 4 is anticipated across the county in late spring 2021.

Determinations for Tier 2

Following Tier 2 requirements defined and required by the State of Nevada, we are making our determinations for the employee composition for Tier 2 now. We are currently asking our deans and vice presidents to provide to Human Resources a list of all their employees who are eligible for the vaccine in Tier 2 based on the following general criteria: regular required physical presence as was the case before the Fall Break; face-to-face contact with students and other employees; and necessary physical presence to provide a high-quality service on campus.

Positions to be considered for Tier 2 include the following:

  1. Employees (including graduate assistants) who teach face-to-face including “HyFlex” modes.
  2. Employees (including graduate assistants) with critical or time-sensitive research projects that require face-to-face interaction or working in close proximity to others.
  3. Employees who must come to campus to meet technical or support requirements to fulfill teaching or administrative infrastructure.
  4. Employees who have multiple, daily campus and face-to-face interactions with students, the community and the public (e.g., Cashier’s Office, Admissions and Records, Financial Aid, etc.) that must be done in person.
  5. Employees whose daily responsibilities require them to be on campus and keep the campus infrastructure maintained (e.g., campus cleaning, supporting equipment and HVAC that are exposed to public spaces regularly to complete their duties).
  6. Non-teaching student employees are not eligible in Tier 2.

Once the determinations are made by deans and vice presidents based on the tiered structure provided and managed by the State of Nevada (COVID-19 Vaccination Program Nevada’s Playbook for Statewide Operations  [external PDF]), Human Resources will develop a list which will be used to inform Tier 2 personnel via email when they are eligible for vaccination. The email will contain information on how to make an appointment to be vaccinated at the county point of dispensing (POD), which will be at the Livestock Events Center in Reno. Once the first dose is administered at the POD, employees will be asked to wait at a nearby area to ensure there are no adverse reactions. During that 15-minute wait period, employees will then be asked to schedule their second dose, which could be anywhere from 21 to 28 days hence depending on the vaccine used.

Vaccine information and updates can be found on the University’s coronavirus information page. Questions concerning the employee composition of the tiers can be sent to COVIDVaccine@unr.edu.

If we could, we would have all of our employees included in the highest priority tier possible. Such an approach is not feasible, however, due to the limited amount of vaccine that is currently available. The reality is that our institution must include those individuals whose duties require them to be on campus regularly who have face-to-face contact with other individuals. As more vaccine doses become available, the hope is that our remaining tiers will receive vaccinations in a prompt and efficient manner. This is an evolving process, and in many ways, the delivery and distribution of the vaccine is in its nascent stages. The vaccines are still a scarce resource and we cannot assume that once a person receives the proper doses that this will prove to be the end of this months-long pandemic. We still have a ways to go.

Continuing to fight the spread

In addition to making the vaccine readily available for individuals who wish to receive it, we must continue to be vigilant and not let our guards down. We must continue to wear facial coverings, practice social distancing, wash our hands frequently and continue to only gather with those who live in our households. All employees, students employees, contractors and affiliates on campus must continue to adhere to the current policies and procedures, as well as any specific requirements for the department, class or activity operating on campus (on campus work refers to any work performed at any University office, property, field work or sponsored event).

The vaccines are a highly effective tool in a kit of many medical and public health tools that we should all use in concert in fighting the spread of COVID-19. Taken together, one step at a time, we are now on a road where perhaps by then end of the coming semester we will be at a different place.

Continue to look out for one another. We have much to look forward to this coming spring semester.

Sincere regards, Brian Sandoval