CMU The Future is Now update released

Safe Together, Strong Together co-chairs Amy Bronson and John Marshall provide a weekly update through the Colorado Mesa University Facebook page where they discuss a new update released about CMU's approach to COVID-19.

Colorado Mesa University released The Future is Now report Jan. 21 as part of the university’s reflection of education during the COVID-19 pandemic. Safe Together, Strong Together co-chairs John Marshall and Amy Bronson announced CMU’s new plan during a Facebook live event.

Within the report released Thursday, President Tim Foster shared how a unifying theme links the Fall 2020 semester campus planning effort, Safe Together, Strong Together (ST2), and the next phase of the plan called The Future is Now.

“The two pandemic response initiatives are based on a value proposition: that in-person learning is preferable for the majority of Colorado Mesa University (CMU) students,” he said. “Dedication to in-person learning remains a cornerstone of CMU’s mission and is the reason for the infrastructure and virus response competencies CMU built in 2020. The Future is Now is predicated on the fact that COVID-19 will not close campus or stop education at CMU.”

The report also provides insights into the symbolism behind the name, highlighting how there is no better time than the present for taking action that will shape the future.

Within the ST2 initiative, the university created signage guidelines across campus and collaborated with Mesa County Health officials ahead of students’ arrival during the summer and fall. As students returned to campus, they pledged to follow the ST2 plan after the student body expressed an overwhelming desire for in-person learning over online.

CMU collaborated with Pardis Sabeti of Harvard and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Through this partnership, CMU worked on genomic (gene) sequencing research with the hopes of having a better understanding of the virus and its mutational trajectory. This research remains ongoing as the organizations jointly pursue grant and research opportunities.

CMU was selected as a pilot campus for testing additional emerging technologies like a smart phone software application that uses Bluetooth technology. The app tracks and models viral outbreaks during the pandemic and with over 200 students enrolled, generated data in the technology rollout called Operation Outbreak.

The university also created a COVID-19 data dashboard on its website (https://tinyurl.com/CMUcovid) for students, faculty and the community to view. The dashboard tracks the number of cases, positive cases by week, exposure sources and the campus alert level.

The Future is Now is a continuation of the university’s efforts to offer students an education, something “considered by many to be foundational to democracy, which is why it has sustained through pandemics, global conflicts and economic strife in the past,” the report reads.

ST2 co-chairs began planning for the next round of COVID-19 mitigation strategies at CMU. Through workshops, the committees conducted a comprehensive review of CMU’s campus-wide performance and identified areas for improvement in October, November and December. Those findings guided them in the creation of The Future is Now phase.

“As you think about how we got here, it was taking everything that we’ve built and learned in the first semester, optimizing those things and really leaning into this second semester as we take off from here,” Marshall said. “We know the stakes are high and we know we need to get this right and it’s something we’ve put in a lot of time and energy into with a lot of support.”

During a weekly CMU ST2 update Thursday, Marshall and Bronson welcomed Nick Meyerson, a scientist in the department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology (MCDB) at CU Boulder and CEO of Darwin Biosciences, to provide insight into the evolution of COVID-19 testing throughout the pandemic.

“In the beginning of the pandemic, everyone was getting stuck in the face with nasal swabs and from then on, I knew saliva was key,” Meyerson said. “Saliva is a really good metric for if somebody is contagious or not.”

Looking back at lessons from the ST2 model, it was clear CMU and Mesa County are connected when faced with the pandemic. County COVID-19 cases rose aggressively the week of Oct. 11, 2020, but it wasn’t until roughly three weeks later that CMU cases saw an uptick, the report notes.

“While a multi-faceted COVID-19 mitigation strategy was in fact critical to CMU, the university is not impervious to the community’s COVID-19 burden,” the report states.

Thus, The Future is Now plan will incorporate the Sabeti Model as its revised testing strategy this spring. This model indicates CMU is best served by focusing its overall testing capabilities toward first- and second-degree close contacts, including roommates, family members and work associates. The report indicates CMU and COVIDcheck Colorado, a testing network developed by Gary Community Investment Company and The Piton Foundation, will devote over 50% of testing capacity toward testing members of the Grand Junction community who are known close contacts of campus community members as well as testing CMU students. CMU’s current max output is roughly 1,000 tests per day.

“We do ask that this is sort of a renewed sense for our campus community to stack hands yet again and say, ‘We can do this,’” Bronson said.

The Sabeti Model looks at the next envelope of protection for the campus by extending the Mavily (Maverick family) to those first- and second-degree close contacts. Roommates who are not students and colleagues student engage with at work will have equal access to testing at CMU. Marshall believes Mavilies will be a critical component to CMU’s success to contact trace and keep campus functioning this spring.

Safety protocols from wearing face coverings and social distancing remain in place within the university plan.

Students and families are encouraged to review The Future is Now plan and share the plan on social media. People who share the plan will be entered in to win a $1,000 scholarship. CMU also welcomes feedback from families, students and the community on the plan. People can share their thoughts by emailing safety@coloradomesa.edu or calling 970-248-1366.

Lauren Brant is a staff writer and digital content coordinator for the Montrose Daily Press.

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