New Mexico State University will continue to be a part of COVID-19 vaccine distribution efforts as long as the New Mexico Department of Health needs the university’s help.
NMSU is hosting a drive-thru vaccine distribution site for all eligible citizens, with many more events to come, according to NMSU COVID-19 project manager and leader for the point of distributions, Jon Webster.
Webster explained he is prepared to oversee on-campus vaccine distribution for as long as it takes to get the community vaccinated.
Bringing students and faculty back for on-campus learning may depend on how many people get vaccinated. NMSU President John Floros explained it is important for everyone to continue to take all precautions necessary for several months until the school can achieve herd immunity.
“My hope is that because of the rate of vaccination, sometime in the middle to late summer, we will get to that point where we can actually start to return to some normal sense of life,” Floros said. “And I’m hoping that our next fall semester will be different and much closer to normal than where we are right now,” he added.
Despite expressing the importance of getting vaccinated, university officials do not plan on mandating COVID-19 vaccinations in order for students or faculty to return to campus, according to President Floros.
Experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci have said that 75% to 85% of the population needs to get vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity.
Dr. Kathryn Hanley, a biology professor at NMSU with expertise in virology and emerging infectious diseases, emphasized the importance of taking precautions when planning to return to campus.
“We’re going to have to keep wearing those masks and we’re going to have to keep up the social distancing, so it may be that we can start to come back together in new ways, and [not] have to be virtual all the time,” Hanley said.
A return to normalcy is not the only reason NMSU and so many other universities are making a push to reopen. Professors like Hanley feel students may be struggling with online classes and missing out on campus life, an important aspect of students’ academic journey that cannot be replicated online.
“They do much better if there’s some kind of blend where they, at least, have some face-to-face classes. That’s important socially, that’s important for their mental health and that’s important for their learning,” professor Hanley said.
Both Floros and Webster feel it is important to work together and follow federal and state guidelines so the university can return to some degree of normalcy within the year.
“If we can manage to vaccinate enough people, if we can manage to reduce the risk of transmission, then I think we can slowly start to introduce activities that really bring back a much better state of mental health for our students and then our employees and then the rest of the community,” Floros said.