The members of the University Union of Northern Arizona – Faculty, Staff, and Graduate Student employees – call upon Northern Arizona University to act ethically and forcefully to ensure a safe learning and working environment for all members of the University community. As teachers, researchers, and support staff in an educational institution we believe in knowledge and the ongoing search for truth; we believe in the power and value of expertise in the service of the wider community.
NAU Protocols and UUNA Statement of Concern:
As we are now facing a surge of Delta Covid-19 variant in Arizona, the members of the University Union of Northern Arizona in association with the American Federation of Teachers (UUNA-AFT) wish to go on record with our concerns regarding the stated protocols for opening the 2021-2022 school year. Firstly it should be acknowledged that on Wednesday August 11th NAU President Jose Luiz Cruz-Rivera announced a change in University policy which requires masks in all indoor spaces where physical distancing is difficult or impossible. This contradicts a previous message from the NAU provosts which stated that “Faculty and staff may not require masks in classrooms, labs, offices, field work/trips, or other learning settings, except where clinical services are being provided, including training and research environments” (Provost Email August 6, 2021). This change to University policy is welcome, though confusing for faculty, staff, and students. NAU must remain steadfast in its commitment to public health.
Failure to implement CDC guidance endangers the greater Flagstaff community. As an institution that serves a large number of indigenous and latino students, the refusal to implement a mask mandate puts a greater threat/burden on those students from these groups and their families as they are more likely to live in multi-generational households.
We call upon the NAU administration to stand with its employees, students, and community and publicly challenge the anti-science policies of Gov. Ducey and the Arizona State Legislature. In addition to implementing and enforcing the mask mandate President Cruz Rivera announced on the 11th, we call for the following safety procedures:
A vaccination mandate for all students, faculty, and staff (consideration of medical exemptions);
Physical distancing practices
Ongoing testing and quarantine procedures
What Science Tells Us:
Given the quickly spreading and highly contagious Delta strain of the COVID virus, we stand together to remind the University administration that the science is clearly reflected in the updated CDC guidelines on Masking and Social Distancing:
When teachers, staff, and students consistently and correctly wear a mask, they protect others as well as themselves. Consistent and correct mask use is especially important indoors and in crowded settings, when physical distancing cannot be maintained.
Indoors: CDC recommends indoor masking for all individuals age 2 years and older, including students, teachers, staff, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status.
Based on studies from 2020-2021 school year, CDC recommends schools offer and promoting vaccination, require consistent and correct use of masks, conduct COVID-19 testing, and implement other disease prevention strategies. These prevention strategies remain crucial in community settings with mixed populations of vaccinated and people who are not fully vaccinated. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/colleges-universities/considerations.html
The Threat to Life and Health From Political Leaders:
These reasonable, evidence-based standards of health and prevention have been rejected by a number of political leaders, including Gov. Ducey of Arizona.
Dr. Cadey Harrel a family physician in Tucson and Arizona State Lead for the Committee to Protect Health Care offered the following: “Lifting simple, effective and scientifically proven measures that can reduce the spread of COVID-19 so children, teachers and school staff stay safe against a deadly disease is one of the most dangerous things the Arizona State Legislature and Governor Ducey can do right now. Instead of blackmailing schools into embracing their anti-science ideas, Arizona legislators should be doing more to support our state-subsidized schools so they can keep students, teachers, and school staff safe.” Dr. Ricardo Correa, an endocrinologist in Phoenix adds, “We know what steps we can take to reduce COVID-19 from spreading, and they include wearing masks and getting vaccinated. Pretending these facts don’t exist only puts lives at risk, and politicians who ignore basic safety measures that can protect people must be held accountable.” https://committeetoprotect.org/arizona-health-experts-blast-legislature-for-banning-masks-from-schools-urge-continued-use-and-vaccines/
Standing with Science and Protecting the Students We Serve:
The New York Times recently reported concerns that the Delta variant of COVID-19 is hitting younger adults harder than other segments of the population. While this shift may be the result of lower vaccination rates in this demographic, this still raises concerns for institutions such as schools and universities where youth and young adults are crowded together. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/03/health/covid-young-adults-sicker.html?searchResultPosition=3
Responding to this perceived danger, on August 2, 2021, the American College Health Association (ACHA) issued a “Joint Statement Regarding Dangerous Restrictions by States on COVID-19 Public Health Measures” condemning the actions of numerous State governments, including the State of Arizona, that undermine the ability of schools, universities and other organizations to “operate safely and fully at a time of tremendous unpredictability. Furthermore, these restrictions prohibit higher education institutions from taking responsible and reasonable public health measures and ultimately threaten the health and safety of students, faculty, staff, and neighboring communities.” https://www.acha.org/ACHA/About/ACHA_News/Statement_on_Dangerous_State_Restrictions_on_COVID-19_Public_Health_Measures.aspx
Closer to home, the Arizona Academy of Family Physicians has also called upon State leaders to follow CDC guidelines that call for all children and adults in educational setting to adhere to mask wearing protocols. http://www.azafp.org/site/azafp-position-statement-on-covid-19-back-to-school-safety-a/?fbclid=IwAR3qbqEmpvi9X2DvswNXhaTkpD-Kyvr8lMbuAtP70Txnugn4K9lzj0VFSnE
The Politico/Morning Consult survey found that “a majority of adults in the U.S. think policy makers should impose mask mandates to protect public health” with sixty-nine percent of American adults supporting local mask mandates. (https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/566271-majority-of-adults-call-for-local-mask-mandates-poll?rl=1)
Last month, a federal judge upheld Indiana University’s vaccination and mask mandate. (https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2021/07/20/federal-judge-upholds-indiana-universitys-covid-19-vaccine-requirement)
We believe public opinion, the law and, ultimately, history will judge these demands as rational, courageous, and humane.