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Seeking and Sharing Answers to COVID-19’s Most Vexing Questions

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Barbara Brooks

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When big issues disrupt civil society — such as the way COVID-19 accentuated the digital divide and threatened access to education and health care — there’s one sure-fire way to map a plan for the future. According to the University of Denver, the best solutions derive from working together.

In the spirit of Seeking Tomorrow’s Answers Together (STAT), DU hosted an innovative, half-day digital STAT Conference on Jan. 8, featuring 21 speakers from more than a dozen leading universities and health-related organizations from across the country. The aim was to review what worked best over the past many months and to share best practices for the next phase of keeping students and communities safe while minimizing the risks associated with COVID-19.

Four panel discussions featured lightning talks on topics from saliva testing, sewer monitoring and contact tracing, to course delivery, the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of college students, and ways to include students proactively in the procedures that keep them and their peers safe.

“Higher education institutions have a tremendous opportunity to learn from one another during this crisis,” said Chancellor Jeremy Haefner. “We are committed to building bridges, finding solutions, communicating transparently, and collaborating with peers who also can be nimble and quick. As COVID-19 unfolded, some institutions proved they could pivot, in real time, to keep their communities healthy and safe. We reached out and shared what was working at DU, and we listened and learned from others.” 

The next important step, as framed by Corinne Lengsfeld, DU’s senior vice provost for research and graduate education, was to host a public forum to share these experiences to help others. This STAT Conference, and future iterations, will contribute to the body of pandemic-response knowledge and benefit the public good.

While Colorado and Denver emerged as leaders in 2020 for responding effectively and keeping COVID-19 cases mostly below the national average, DU also was nationally recognized. A recent study by DU’s COVID Response Team found the University outperformed many of its peers in addressing the pandemic. DU’s COVID dashboard was cited as one of the best in the country, placing 10th out of 349 university dashboards reviewed by DU’s partnership with National Jewish Health resulted in nearly 30,000 COVID-19 tests, and capacity will likely increase in 2021.

The STAT Conference website will become a central sharing point for resources, including the video recordings from the conference, speaker bios and a library of other shared content.