Good news has been hard to come by this year. But if you’re looking for something positive, consider what’s happening at the University of Wyoming.
This past week, the school finished its phased reopening plan. After a bumpy start, students are back in class, interacting with peers and learning as a unit. That return to in-person learning follows the news that Wyoming will play football this fall as part of an abbreviated, eight-game schedule. And War Memorial Stadium will be open to fans, albeit in a limited capacity.
We’ve long held that the university is arguably Wyoming’s most important institution. It serves as not only an educational hub, but a cultural one as well. As the state’s only four-year public university, its success — academically and/or athletically — is shared and celebrated by all residents of Wyoming.
Seeing even the hint of a return to normalcy at the university, then, offers all of us a collective boost. That’s especially important given the onslaught of challenges facing our state: the energy downturn, budget cuts and most recently, one of the largest Wyoming wildfires in memory.
But even more importantly, the university offers an example of how taking the pandemic seriously can lead to an easing of restrictions and a return to public life. Ahead of the academic year, university leaders developed one of the largest testing programs in the state, conducting nearly 15,000 tests to date. It required masks and its leaders set an example by wearing them. Officials took outbreaks seriously, pausing the reopening when cases reached a predetermined number. And the leadership worked transparently, updating the public with press releases and with a detailed online dashboard that anyone can access.
The result? Amid a painful year, fans will be able to root on the Cowboys. Students will benefit from the interpersonal interaction that can’t be replicated on Zoom. And let’s not forget: Students in Laramie and football at War Memorial will provide an economic boost to the beleaguered restaurants, bars and other businesses in Wyoming’s lone college town.
As cases spiral here in Wyoming, the school’s ability to begin to reopen shows us a way forward. If we take COVID-19 seriously, if we dispense with talk of hoaxes and conspiracies, we can enjoy parts of normal life while remaining vigilant against a disease that has killed more than 205,000 Americans this year.
Some have erroneously suggested that we have to choose between the economy and staying healthy. Some have suggested that simple measures designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 — hand washing, social distancing and face coverings — are a waste of time.
But the university’s experience shows that those steps are necessary toward a resumption of life as we knew it prior to March. We can strike a necessary balance until this wretched pandemic finally comes to an end.