EMU Responds To Union COVID-19 Protection Concerns
Eastern Michigan University Vice President of Communications Walter Kraft responds to the concerns of the two unions who voiced displeasure with the university's policies in place to protect the campus community from COVID-19.
Lisa Barry: [00:00:00] With concern by at least two unions representing staff and faculty at Eastern Michigan University about the safety protocols in place concerning COVID-19, we reached out to Walter Kraft, vice president of communications for the university, to get his response to those concerns. I'm assuming you've seen or heard about the press release from these two unions of faculty and staff at Eastern saying they want more COVID-19 protocols. And what is the university's response to that?
Walter Kraft: [00:00:32] Yeah, thanks, Lisa. Yeah, two of the faculty unions that put out a statement earlier today, and we're quite aware of that--I'll just start by saying, you know, to state that we have a unsafe environment for our community is just plain false. The protocols and safety measures we have in place this fall are actually superior and more stringent than what we had in place last fall. And, as you may know, the COVID positive test rates on our campus last year were low and were among the lowest of any university in Michigan. So, we feel very strongly that the processes that we have in place right now will ensure the safety of our community.
Lisa Barry: [00:01:17] And the person I spoke to said that they were concerned that staff does not have to be...there's no staff mandate for a vaccine or for testing. And his point was that COVID knows no status. It doesn't care who you are or where you work. And so, he feels like that that leaves them unprotected.
Walter Kraft: [00:01:35] Well, Lisa, we do have other precautions in place. And, you know, in our our world of worlds, the best case scenario is that everybody is vaccinated. And I can speak for many people here that we wish that were the case, and we want that to be the case. And we're actively working to promote that. You may know we have a vaccine incentive program underway that gives our employees, faculty, and staff as much as five hundred dollars cash, if they get vaccinated. It's one of the incentives. And we have similar incentives in place for our students where they can win up to five thousand dollars and in credit to their student account, a free computer, a free semester of housing and 100 other prizes. So, we are pushing and promoting vaccines very strongly. We do have a mandatory vaccine protocol in place for our students who live in residence halls, who participate in activities that would put them in close proximity to one another, such as student athletes, marching band, cheer and dance, and those kinds of things. So, we feel very strongly that we're doing the right things, and we're doing much more this year than what we did last year. And we had a very safe record last year.
Lisa Barry: [00:02:59] It is this person's perception, though, that the majority of universities in southeast Michigan do have across the board mandate. So why would Eastern not?
Walter Kraft: [00:03:10] Well, we are not the only one that is operating the way we do that has a either a selective mandate like we have or a mandate with a testing opt out. So, if you choose not to, if a student chooses not to have to be vaccinated and doesn't follow that, then they have to be tested. And that is a regular process that will take place. And many universities, I think it's about half and half. Half have a full mandate, and half have just the testing. Some don't even have a testing protocol. So, we feel that we're in the right place. And the other thing I should mention is that we are in constant, constant contact with the Washtenaw County Health Department. They review and we discuss in detail our plans and protocols. They review, and they sign off on. And we feel that's very important that we have their support, that we believe that we are following their recommendations and their guidelines in the protocols that we put forth.
Lisa Barry: [00:04:15] So, overall, you feel quite confident. How would you categorize how you're feeling in the confidence level about protecting everyone's health and safety when classes begin on Monday?
Walter Kraft: [00:04:26] Lisa, as you know, this has been an ever-evolving. Variants come to play--an ever-evolving virus that continues to change. We've done our very best to stay on top of it, to respond to those changes. That's why many of the things we're talking about today have been put in place really over the last month as the Delta variant really took hold and spread. So, we remain vigilant, and we will continue to work hard to evolve our planning and processes as we need to. But we feel very good about the process that we have in place to ensure the safety and well-being of our entire community, our students, faculty, and staff.
Lisa Barry: [00:05:10] Can you anticipate any possible changes, though? Are you hanging loose about as far as how this is going to end up looking like?
Walter Kraft: [00:05:18] Well, we're always, Lisa, always prepared. And we have to be. We have to be on our toes. We are always looking at what's next. And, frankly, you know, nobody exactly knows what's next. So, we have to be flexible, and we've been flexible, and we will continue to be that way because there may need to be changes. And we'll certainly respond to situations as we need to ensure we're doing everything we can to keep people safe.
Lisa Barry: [00:05:48] That is Eastern Michigan University Vice President of Communications Walter Kraft. You're listening to 891 WEMU. I'm Lisa Barry.
Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support. Make your donation to WEMU today to keep your community NPR station thriving.