Iowa continues to make progress on vaccinations for COVID-19. People have formed new habits after a year of learning to stay home when sick, maintaining physical distance, and hand washing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recently revised its guidance on face coverings outdoors. Thus, I have decided to lift some of the system-wide COVID-19 restrictions for ISU Extension and Outreach following the end of the ISU spring semester. Therefore, effective May 9:
- Face coverings will no longer be required for extension staff, volunteers, or participants unless determined by the county extension council, event organizers, or the event venue. Face coverings are still encouraged indoors, particularly if space is limited, crowds are large, or spaces are poorly ventilated.
- When planning for events and activities through the summer, you are encouraged to reduce crowding and allow for additional ventilation. However, separation distances are not mandated by Extension and Outreach.
- If the county, city, or venue has additional restrictions, then follow their guidance.
- The county office has the discretion to determine the need for plexiglass barriers, sign-in sheets for office visitors, and COVID-19 related signage and cleaning.
When determining how strongly to encourage face coverings or how much additional space to allow to avoid crowding, consider local positivity rates and trends. In addition, as more and more people are vaccinated throughout the summer, risks should be lower in August than they are in May.
CDC notes fully vaccinated individuals can gather without masks with very low risk of spread. A fully vaccinated person has a small risk of contracting COVID-19 if exposed to someone who is infected and actively shedding the virus. Also, as Dr. Fulton stated during the April 29 ISU Town Hall, the risk of a fully vaccinated person infecting an unvaccinated person is low.
However, we should not ask individuals whether they have been vaccinated, and we cannot restrict access to events or facilities based on their vaccination status. This includes employees, volunteers, and participants.
In the meantime, you can do your part to move your community to more pre-pandemic activities. First, please consider having you and your family get fully vaccinated. Second, help people learn about why vaccines are important, how they were developed and tested, and their safety and effectiveness. Encourage them to watch the COVID-19 Vaccination Information Sessions. These webinars are archived and the information and answers that emerged from the lively Q&A sessions live on. All three recordings (two in English and one in Spanish) are available at www.iowacovidinfo.org. Additional language translations may be available at a later date.
ISU Extension and Outreach return to office
President Wintersteen’s April 19 memo outlined plans for faculty and staff to return to campus before the start of the fall semester. In the case of ISU Extension and Outreach, the work never stopped, and most county extension offices reopened in May of 2020. Many faculty and field specialists have also returned to their assigned office. For ISU faculty and staff who have not returned to their office on campus or in a county, it is time to communicate with your supervisor to plan your transition back to the office. For field specialists and regional directors, be sure to communicate with staff in your host county as well.
ISU faculty and staff can return to the office any time, but no later than Monday, August 2, for staff and Thursday, August 19, for faculty. COVID-19 Alternative Work Arrangements expire on June 30, 2021. Beginning July 1, ISU employees should be transitioning back to their assigned office if they haven’t already done so.
Disability accommodations for individual ISU employees are available through UHR Employee and Labor Relations. ISU employees who do not qualify for an accommodation may use existing policies for leave as necessary. University HR has prepared a FAQ for returning to the office that address many questions supervisors and employees may have. County employees also have the ability to make a request for an accommodation for a disability.
As vaccine supply catches up with demand in many parts of the state, we are approaching a time when any Iowan wanting vaccine can access it. Still, challenges may remain for faculty and staff returning to the office, such as child care availability and vulnerable family members at home. That is why it is important that employees and supervisors begin discussions early about the transition.
The past 15 months have shown that ISU Extension and Outreach can continue to build a strong Iowa even during a pandemic. The temporary disruption may have changed where we worked and how we delivered programs, but it didn’t change our determination to build a strong Iowa.
John D. Lawrence
Vice President for Extension and Outreach