Elise Wennberg-Staff Writer
While COVID-19 continues to threaten human life across the country, some pockets of America are returning to an inkling of normalcy. This semester, Dordt University is hoping to be one of those insular areas. For school administrators, a precedented school year requires balancing as-planned campus operations with student and community health.
Last year, Vice President Howard Wilson chaired the university’s COVID-19 task force. With the task force having dissolved last spring, chief of staff Aaron Baart and dean of students Robert Taylor will now handle on-campus matters related to the pandemic. Baart and Taylor’s new position has included adjusting to the rise of local COVID-19 cases caused by the Delta Variant.
“The primary thing that we are trying to do is really stay close to our health partners and making sure that we’re working in tandem with them.” Taylor said. “I think today alone I probably exchanged at least eight emails with our Sioux Center Health.”
From July to August, COVID-19 cases at Sioux Center Health have quadrupled from 11 to 44, according to Siouxland Proud. In nearby Sioux Falls, daily case numbers for the month of August tracked at a higher average than last year’s. They’re rising too. On Sept. 1, Sioux County reported 43 new COVID-19 cases—its highest one-day total since Dec. 2, 2020 (53).
According to Cory Nelson, CEO of Sioux Center Health, the county’s low vaccine rates are contributing to the pandemic’s relative rise. As of Sept. 6, 35 percent of Sioux County has reported a fully vaccinated status. The number sits nearly 20 percentage points lower than the national average and is fifth lowest in the state.
At Dordt, vaccination status outpaces the local community, but still remains under the national average. Baart reports 46 percent of on-campus students have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination.
Though Dordt required students to receive a vaccine or submit a negative COVID-19 test upon returning to campus, they are not requiring vaccination. The administration said they are instead focusing on encouragement and information.
This is an exercise for us to grow in gentleness, patience, and kindness,” Baart said. “We are planning and preparing and doing whatever we can, all while trying to make sure that everyone can get to have as normal a semester and the safest semester possible.”
In a Sept. 1 video release, President Hoekstra announced the campus had sustained two positive tests since classes began on Aug. 24. The university does not plan to supply the student body with COVID-19 case and quarantine numbers, citing student confidentiality concerns. Should on-campus cases increase, though, they may begin releasing the data.
Dordt maintains regular contact with the governor’s office, who supplies the campus with COVID-19 tests as the student body needs them. Additionally, Beth Baas, director of student health and counseling, keeps in touch with Iowa’s Department of Public Health to establish a firm partnership with the department and stay up to date with the latest news.
Because Dordt has not implemented the contact tracing system from last year, they in-part rely on students to self-report. Taylor noted a number of students have tested themselves for COVID-19 out of their own volition, even with just mild symptoms.
“I see a great marriage between liberty and responsibilities. And I think that sometimes it’s easy to forget that those two really belong together. And that’s when they work well, when the two are together,” Taylor said.
“There is so much conversation in our culture about individual rights, rather than communal responsibility,” Baart said.
The Diamond will continue to report on the current 46 percent vaccination status of Dordt’s student body.