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NAU’s Top Priority: Reopening Safely

With the start of fall semester fast approaching, I am reminded every day of the importance of remaining committed to our mission and our role in the lives of our students, communities and local economies.

I am sure I am not alone in having missed our students, our in-person traditions and celebrations, the rhythm of campus life, and the businesses in Northern Arizona that count on the patronage and the support of students, faculty and staff.

Opening our campuses is a priority for us. It’s critical to the economic and social well-being of our community. It’s essential to the vitality of our state in multiple ways, including educating the workforce upon which our state and society depend. Our students’ careers and economic future – and our ability to compete on a global level through an educated workforce – are tied into our mission and those of our businesses and communities.

We recognize NAU’s economic contributions to the communities in which we live. As Flagstaff’s largest employer, NAU contributes $2.4 billion to the state’s economy and supports more than 24,000 jobs statewide.

A series of surveys by NAU’s Economic Policy Institute has shown that the impact of the coronavirus on businesses among respondents has been profound. According to the latest results:

8% of restaurants or prepared food suppliers have closed permanently since the start of the pandemic.

47% of businesses are fully open, while 31% are partially open.

Open businesses are operating at 60% capacity.

Open businesses have seen a 44% decrease in revenue.

50% have applied for aid; 40% have had furloughs or layoffs.

Businesses in tourism, retail, food service and the hotel industry have seen the biggest hits in operating capacity and revenue.

While NAU is dependent on the business community for commerce and basic needs, our students participate in internships, co-ops and jobs at non-profits, government agencies, schools, corporations and businesses. Just within 50 miles of Flagstaff, NAU engages 335 non-NAU employers. And, within the last year, employers recruited for 1,033 positions locally, jobs that are a critical part of our students’ education, allowing them to enter the workforce with real-life experience. Our faculty members participate in studies, local business boards and councils and enjoy professional relationships with business leaders who participate in classroom teaching and training.

With that in mind, we are working hard to ensure we open our classrooms in the fall. Our teams have made great progress developing plans to do so. Keeping health and safety in mind, we will welcome students back in our residence halls. Classrooms will open to students using social distancing, classroom learning and online capabilities. Between scheduling and a reduced number of students per class, we will prioritize physical distancing. We are working on campus protocols for testing, tracing, quarantining and early detection predictors.

Outside of our campus environments and in our communities, we will observe best practices for our own safety and that of everyone around us. Like our peer institutions, we are determining our testing and contact tracing approaches. We have isolation and self-quarantine protocols in place and will refine them to ensure best practices and alignment with CDC guidance in communal living environments.

Our mission to shape and build lives has continued to lead us during this disruption. We are being thorough and careful in our approach, mitigating risks to the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and our local communities as we plan to resume full campus operations so NAU, Flagstaff and Northern Arizona will continue to thrive. FBN

By Dr. Rita Cheng, FBN

Dr. Rita Hartung Cheng is
Northern Arizona University’s 16th president.

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