On Sept. 8, Kirkwood Community College President Dr. Lori Sundberg announced that Kirkwood will request that everyone on campus wear masks in enclosed spaces, such as the classroom, to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
In a video address to Kirkwood students and faculty, Sundberg pleaded with students to help keep the campus a safe place especially for those who are, or live with, immunocompromised people.
“Today I am asking you when you’re in the classroom or in an enclosed space for an extended period of time to please mask,” Sundberg said.
With the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus in full effect around the state of Iowa, counties are starting to see an uptick in positive COVID infections. According to Sundberg, a large portion of infections in Linn County are from students contracting the virus at one of the several colleges in Linn County.
With cases rising in Linn County and on the Kirkwood campus, Sundberg would rather be safe than sorry.
“I know that many of our students and faculty have aging grandparents with health issues and who have children who aren’t able to be vaccinated, and we have immune compromised people on campus, and I care about them,” Sundberg said. “I care about getting everyone through the end of the term as safely and as healthy as we can. So, I am willing to make that trade off to help do my part to ensure our safety.”
However, Sundberg said she understands people’s hesitancy to mask. With many people vaccinated and the roller coaster of the pre-vaccine world over, it can seem to many that there is no need to mask. But, Sundberg said that we need to care for those who are still vulnerable to the virus.
“I know that a lot of you don’t want to mask, and I get it, I don’t either, but I also want to ensure that we have a safe environment here,” Sundberg said.
Kirkwood is not allowed to require masking on campus due to an Iowa law that prohibits mask mandates in public institutions around the state.
Recently, a federal judge struck down that law opening up mask mandates throughout the state for K-12 institutions. According to Sundberg, the temporary order doesn’t apply to colleges.
Still Kirkwood is pleading with students to mask to help contain the spread of the virus across campus.
“Kirkwood belongs to everyone, and it is up to all of us to keep it going and keep it safe for everyone,” Sundberg said.
With the cases still rising case management has become important for Kirkwood.
Vice President of Facilities Troy McQuillen has been running the COVID-19 Hotline for Kirkwood ever since COVID appeared in the U.S. over a year and a half ago.
The COVID hotline has helped students and faculty manage everything COVID related to Kirkwood from isolations, to quarantines, to testing, to vaccines they field it all with a case manager, a few nurses, and attentive Kirkwood personnel — the hotline is ready to serve Kirkwood and keep everyone safe.
Currently the hotline has only about 100 active cases, not all including COVID-19 infections but some being symptoms related to the illness like the flu virus and other infections. According to McQuillen this is a vast improvement from the same time last year when they were handling well over 300 cases at a time.
McQuillen emphasized that four principles dictate Kirkwood’s COVID response: Get vaccinated if you can, request masking across campus, stay home if you’re sick and get tested if experiencing symptoms.
“I think that we are off to a really great start this semester all things considered. We have a lot fewer cases than a year ago and students are being wonderful about staying home if they’re sick,” McQuillen said.
Staying face-to-face is a big question on a lot of minds right now. However, McQuillen states that staying face-to-face is “core” to Kirkwood.
“We are a face-to-face institution – we are not an online institution – and I think our students value that, especially students in CTE and hands on classes,” said McQuillen.