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Faculty blasts YSU’s pandemic response

YOUNGSTOWN — The Youngstown State University faculty union wants a vaccine mandate put in place for the university community by Dec. 1.

The YSU Ohio Education Association in a Monday news release said the university made certain guarantees to keep staff, faculty and students safe, but it didn’t keep those promises.

“… We will no longer be silent about your lack of action — you are putting all our lives in danger,” Susan Clutter, YSU-OEA president, said in the release. She said the university failed to put in place “basic protections” in the wake of the faculty returning to in-person classes.

The union claims the positive cases of COVID-19 are inaccurately represented, and that an August protest by faculty, staff, students and community members “finally led to an indoor mask mandate, mere days before the fall semester began,” the news newsrelease states.

YSU-OEA alleges the university did not update filtration systems or other engineering controls, the contact tracing system is innefective, and it limited learning options for isolated or quarantined students with contradictory communications to faculty regarding accommodations to these students.

The university, in its own statement Monday, said it had sent 73 university emails related to the pandemic to employees and students in the past 18 months, averaging one per week, and information has been distributed throughout various platforms including social media and the school’s weekly e-newsletter.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is an ever-changing moving target beyond anyone’s control. Every day, we all learn new approaches to keeping ourselves and those around us safe,” the university stated. “The university community has shown great patience and perseverance. An institution of our size cannot successfully move through a pandemic of this magnitude without composure, understanding and, finally, resolve.”

YSU does recommend that all faculty and students become fully vaccinated.

A protest for a mask mandate took place recently before the Aug. 30 start of fall semester. Clutter said: “… (the) administration will not act responsibly during this pandemic until they are forced to do so — this is inexcusable.”

UNION DEMANDS

YSU-OEA listed changes it wants to see immediately:

Daily communications between the administration and the YSU community, including transparency in the decision-making process that directly affects the community.

An accurate weekly report of positive cases.

A vaccine mandate for all YSU community members put in place by Dec. 1 “as has been done by other Ohio public institutions like Kent State University and the Ohio State University.”

The ability to work and teach from home for those who are high-risk or are surrounded by high-risk individuals.

Distribution of the N95 masks to those who requested them.

Hiring of a director of Environmental Health and Safety who is “an authority on public health and epidemiology due to the lack of confidence in the current director,” the release states.

A public information request by the organization showed that “very few of the measures YSU claimed were the focus of their pandemic and safety plan are actually in place” and may not be until late October or even spring 2022, the release states.

YSU-OEA also states the university’s trustees indicated there’s more than $14 million in COVID-19 funds to spend on protection and safeguards. “What on earth are they waiting for,” Clutter said.

YSU PRECAUTIONS

The union said YSU’s COVID-19 dashboard was not updated to reflect the most recent reporting period of Sept. 5-11. According to the dashboard, the university had 24 positive cases including two employees, 21 students living off campus and one student living on campus.

The university requires face coverings regardless of vaccination status, encourages vaccinations and has offered free vaccine clinics on campus, and offers free at-home COVID-19 testing, its website shows.

Some protocols the university has include extensive contact tracing, continued daily health assessments, required testing upon arrival for all residential students, sanitization and handwashing stations, extra sanitizing of high-touch points, international travel protocols and air and surface sampling for early detection in campus buildings, according to the university’s website.

“Youngstown State University has been, and will continue to implement evidence-based protocols to monitor and suppress coronavirus in accordance with public health guidelines. YSU will work directly with local public health officials to determine what guidelines are appropriate to implement within the context of our local community and will update protocols as needed,” the website states.

“Everyone must continue to perform a daily health assessment and report COVID cases to YSU COVID support staff.”

nhawthorne@tribtoday.com

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