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Shifting from a Pandemic to Endemic COVID Response

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Sarah Watamura

COVID Coordinator

Announcement  •

Email highlights:

  • Over the coming months, DU is transitioning from a pandemic to endemic COVID-19 response model.
  • The roles of the COVID-19 Response Team will transition away from faculty members to employees with aligned roles, and the overall COVID-19 response will move to the Office of Risk Management.
  • Our newly hired Public Health Manager will lead our operational response to COVID-19, as well as other campus health initiatives.
  • The DU/National Jewish Health Advisory Group will be reinstated and led by Sarah Watamura through the end of the calendar year.
  • The SPIT Lab will continue as part of the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.

April 28, 2022

Dear DU community members,

As much of the country transitions from pandemic to endemic, we are thinking about how and when to transition from the COVID-19 Response Team we have had in place these past two years toward a more permanent and adaptable model going forward. While the novel coronaviruses are clearly here to stay, we believe it makes sense to shift away from an emergency response model as we move into the summer.

This transition includes intentional consideration of how to shift from institutional protocol enforcement to individual responsibility—in conditions where it is reasonable and where the health and safety of our community are not compromised. We are confident that, with our two years of experience under quite variable conditions, we have the understanding and processes to allow several of our faculty and staff COVID-19 Response Team members to return to their pre-COVID-19 roles. That said, we will retain our ability to adapt to the ebb and flow of changing conditions.

Soon, we will adjust and streamline roles and functions previously led by the COVID-19 Response Team.

  • Faculty integrally involved in COVID-19 management (Kim Gorgens, Derigan Silver, Sarah Watamura) will transition from these roles. Derigan already transitioned in March and Kim and Sarah will transition at the end of June.
  • We will instead assign specific functions to closely aligned employees in several divisions on campus.
  • In July, our overall COVID-19 response will transition to the Office of Risk Management, under the direction of Eric Hartman, executive director of enterprise risk management. Many universities use this model. Eric has been engaged with COVID-19 response since the fall term and has experience with COVID-19 response here and at his prior institution. We are confident Eric and his team have the talent and flexible approach to support whatever the future may hold.

We have completed a search for a new position: Public Health Project Manager.

  • This position will assume responsibility for day-to-day operational management of our COVID-19 response as of June 1, 2022. This individual will archive the University’s responses to date to allow quick adaptation to new challenges should they arise. When COVID-19 does not demand their attention, the Public Health Project Manager will work with teams focusing on campus public health initiatives more broadly.
  • We are thrilled to announce that Therese Mashak has accepted this position! Therese brings years of experience as a critical staff member in the provost’s office as well as a master’s degree in healthcare administration. Therese has supported aspects of the COVID-19 response since 2020. Please join me in welcoming Therese to this new position!
  • We will reinstate the previously invaluable DU/National Jewish Health Advisory Group.
  • This group will be charged with supporting strategy for COVID-19 management. To retain institutional knowledge and support a smooth transition, I have been asked to lead this advisory group through the end of 2022.

The SPIT Lab will continue to operate.

  • Phil Danielson will continue to direct the SPIT lab with test reporting supported by the Health & Counseling center, and the testing program will continue under the direction of Corinne Lengsfeld through the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.
  • Contact tracing (previously led by Chris Short, director of environmental health and safety) will be integrated with the testing program and led by Tara Nicklay, who has served as the operational lead of contact tracing.
  • Other transitions.
  • While we do not anticipate needing the dedicated attention of Katia Miller in Institutional Research, we will continue to work with our colleagues in IR as needed.
  • We will be standing down the Emergency Operations Committee led by Jeff Simpson.

At its peak, the University’s response to COVID-19 required our COVID-19 Response Team, supervised by senior leadership and working in close partnership with National Jewish Health. We were also supported by a committed team of more than 70 employees in diverse roles across campus alongside a large team of dedicated student interns.

During these past two+ years, faculty and staff have generously donated their time in vaccine clinics and testing sites, as well as contributing their unique expertise. While the COVID-19 Response Team has been the face of this response, every strategic decision and detailed implementation has been accomplished through incredible teamwork across our entire community. Together, we have built a community of care to respond to COVID-19 and the complex array of challenges brought to light or amplified by the pandemic.

Thank you for all you have given to this effort. With our new, integrated management model, we will continue to have a team dedicated to monitoring conditions on and off-campus, and we will be ready to respond as needed.


Sarah Watamura

COVID-19 Coordinator