Detroit Mercy president pens op-ed for The Detroit News

December 30, 2020

Detroit Mercy President Antoine M. Garibaldi recently penned the following op-ed for The Detroit News Dec. 28 edition titled “How our Detroit campus is combating COVID-19.” The University thanks The Detroit News for this opportunity and is happy to share this piece with all readers.

The availability of COVID-19 vaccines gives hope to many that there may be light at the end of the proverbial “pandemic tunnel.”

But to neutralize the virus completely, medical experts and scientists say that at least 70% of Americans must receive the vaccines before our lives return to normal. Vaccination trials, which included representative samples of the population’s varied ethnic groups, have proven to be highly effective and safe. Thus, our immediate imperative is to assure the public that the benefits of being vaccinated surpass the risks of choosing not to take it.

Among the reasons for the reluctance to take the vaccines is the apparent swiftness in which they were developed. Scientific trials are conducted today with much higher standards and patient protections than decades ago.

More importantly, most citizens are unaware that the messenger RNA (mRNA) technology used in the COVID-19 vaccine development has been underway for years because scientists anticipated these novel coronavirus pandemics and had been preparing life-saving remedies that could be administered immediately and safely.

Operation Warp Speed has become an unfortunate misnomer because it mischaracterizes the long vaccine research and developmental process and the thousands of people who participated in efficacy studies. Thus, these valuable facts can positively change the attitudes of those who are reluctant to take the vaccines.

It is important for young adults to know that they are not immune to COVID-19, which is why University of Detroit Mercy developed and implemented specific procedures to provide the highest level of safety for students, as well as faculty and staff.

The comprehensive tri-campus-wide COVID-19 Task Force addressed anxiety about the virus, the quick transition from in-person to virtual learning, and other academic- and mental health-related concerns. The 20-person task force led by the Provost also identified numerous best practices to assure students’ success in classes and also living safely on campus.

They also created Titans Together, an initiative that focuses on the unity and solidarity shared by Detroit Mercy community members as we adapted to new ways of keeping the University running. A notable example of effectiveness for the spring and summer semesters was our fall 2020 first- to second-year retention rate — 86.2%, the second highest over the last decade.

The Task Force also provided comparable attention to the health and safety of staff and faculty after transitioning seamlessly to remote work and virtual instruction models, which included a flexible hybrid model that combines in-person classes with virtual courses. Our belief was that if we adhered strictly to the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state and county health departments, and best practices from across the country, there was a strong probability that we could return to in-person classes in fall 2020. And we did.

Providing the valuable service of quality dental health care through our School of Dentistry’s clinics and protecting the safety of their patients, many of whom do not have access to those services and travel from across the state, was extremely important for us to continue because of our Mercy and Jesuit mission.

During this pandemic, the School of Dentistry’s students, faculty and staff maintained its more than 85-year commitment and some of the health and safety protocols were featured in a WDIV newscast in August.

Because students, faculty and staff have adhered to social distancing, wearing masks and other health and safety precautions, few residential students have contracted COVID-19 and positive cases institution-wide have been low. Labs and clinical rotations for dental and health professions students have also been conducted safely.

Those efforts have garnered national attention for the university as an exemplary model for other institutions. Furthermore, our internal data and analysis showed that most contacts with a COVID-19 positive individual by our employees and students occurred off-campus, which is consistent with conclusions cited nationally by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Encouraging all adults, especially those most vulnerable to the virus, to undergo vaccination is essential; but social distancing, wearing masks, washing our hands and contact tracing must continue. “We are all in this together” must be our collective imperative to eradicate COVID-19 and for our lives at home, work and on our campuses to return to normal by fall 2021.

Only then will the pandemic be a past and troubling memory.