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Northwest Nazarene University students complete fall semester in person

Unlike many college students who have been confined to dorms rooms and online learning, NNU students have mostly been in face-to-face classes since Aug. 10.

NAMPA, Idaho — Students at Northwest Nazarene are taking finals and will wrap up the fall semester on Thursday, Dec. 10.

Unlike many college students who have been confined to dorms rooms and online learning, NNU students have mostly been in face-to-face classes since Aug. 10.

"If there's something that I want to communicate to the wider community, behaviors change outcomes.  And the fact that we've had 100% compliance in terms of wearing face coverings where appropriate and the social distancing, all those things are challenges for us and we're not where we want to be, but in this moment facing the kind of enemy we're facing, those behaviors have helped us stay face-to-face and deliver the traditional kind of instruction that we want to deliver," Vice President for Academic Affairs and Chair of the 2020-21 COVID Planning Team Brad Kurtz-Shaw said. " And if I was going to say something to the wider community, it is possible to stay open, to have business sort of stay close to normal, if you just do a few simple things like keep your distance and wear a face covering when appropriate and things will be okay."

The behaviors of NNU students have made a difference in the level of community spread on campus, according to Kurtz-Shaw. The school will continue to encourage others to pay attention to their actions to ensure they will not further affect the community.

"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!"

School officials says students on campus have been able to attend class in-person thanks, in large part, to a saliva screening process implemented in early September as part of the university's 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," 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 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. 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 ongoing 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 "stay-in-place" directive before there was significant community spread. This action 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 plans to start the spring semester fully in-person on Jan. 12, 2021.

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