SDSU full steam ahead despite variant spread


Jacob Boyko, News Editor (He/Him)

An uptick in new cases of a highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant has left many students and faculty wondering what to expect as they return to campus.

The answer is this: South Dakota State University will return to 100% capacity for fall classes, despite the prevalence of the Delta variant, according to Vice President of Academic Affairs Dennis Hedge.

“We have planned for a return to standard classroom capacities since last spring, and our plans have not changed,” Hedge said. “Students uncomfortable with face-to-face courses should contact their academic adviser to discuss possible online course options.”

Dining facilities and residence halls will operate as they did pre-pandemic, said Douglas Wermedal, associate vice president for student affairs.

“At this time, we plan to begin the fall semester with very few of the practices that were common last year,” Wermedal said.

Seating restrictions and social distancing measures will not be in place, but to-go options and mobile ordering will continue to be an option for people who prefer social distancing. At this time, there are no restrictions on outside guests in residence halls.

SDSU will not require proof of vaccination for students to return to campus, and there are no plans to reimpose the indoor mask mandate that expired at the end of the last school year.

The Delta variant, which was first discovered in India, is a mutated strain of COVID-19 that is rapidly spreading in the United States. Bunny Christie, the infection control practitioner at Brookings Regional Health, warned that the Delta variant could have a devastating impact, especially among those who have chosen to not get vaccinated for COVID-19.

“The Delta mutation is extremely virulent and more easily spread,” Christie said. “It’s not necessarily more dangerous, but it’s more dangerous for [unvaccinated people] because they have no immunity.”

The CDC lists the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson vaccines as 94%, 95%, and 66% effective, respectively. While the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is less effective, it may be more resilient against breakthrough cases that require hospitalizations, said Christie.

All three vaccines have shown high efficacy in fighting the Delta variant, as well.

Christie encourages students to get vaccinated as soon as they can.

“The unvaccinated will continue to bring the virus in, where it will continue to mutate and keep the pandemic rolling,” Christie said. “People need to get the vaccine regardless of what they feel politically. We either get the vaccines, or we continue to watch people die. We need herd immunity for the people who can’t get vaccinated.”

Christie advised those who choose not to get the vaccine to continue social distancing, wear a mask when needed and avoid large crowds. If students notice any unusual symptoms, they should take some time away from class and get checked out at the campus clinic.

Students can schedule a COVID-19 vaccine at the student health clinic or any pharmacy in Brookings. The next walk-up vaccination clinic is scheduled for Sept. 9.

SDSU and the Board of Regents will continue to monitor the public health situation. If the COVID-19 situation on campus takes a turn for the worse, SDSU students and faculty could see policy reversals.

Despite the rising concerns from public health specialists, some students like Julia Gill, a junior sports and recreation management major, aren’t concerned about the return to pre-pandemic conditions.

“I’m actually pretty excited to go back to normal, to have everybody in classes again,” she said.