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Dear Faculty and Staff,

When the pandemic began, we knew little about how it would spread or how we might lessen the spread of the virus. Today, we know more. With the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we know wearing masks, washing our hands and physical distancing can significantly reduce the spread of this virus. For the health and safety of our Coyote family, I need your help.

First, I want to thank the many faculty and staff members I have seen wearing masks and physically distancing themselves in common areas. Your contributions to keeping our community safe are noticed, and I commend you for your commitment.

I have also been disappointed by those in our community who have chosen to not wear masks in public spaces. I know this is hard to remember to do. Meaningful action is rarely easy. But, please, I implore you, wear a mask, wash your hands and physically distance when possible. So many things we adore about USD depend on you and your actions during this difficult time. We want to have performances, sporting events, student organization activities and all of those incredible experiences for our campus community. If we are diligent, we should be able to have many of those experiences. If we are not, I suspect the virus will take those from us. We have been rehearsing for months and it’s time to act. We have one chance to get this right.

I have always believed – and still strongly believe – that USD is a family. Family members protect each other. Now, more than ever, we must be kind to each other and focus on keeping each other safe. As cases start to rise in Clay County, we must stay the course and follow CDC guidelines. Be diligent in observing these guidelines, both on-campus and off-campus. Wear your mask. Wash your hands. Observe appropriate physical distancing protocols. Stay home when you are sick. Don’t be afraid to reach out to co-workers and ask them to wear their masks or observe more space.

You each hold extraordinary power in setting an example not only for our students but for each other. It is my greatest hope that we can provide a true USD experience for our campus community throughout the upcoming year. If we want to maintain our operations this year, we must continue to focus on slowing the spread, so our hospitals aren’t overwhelmed.

I ask that you pledge to keep me accountable, just as I pledge to keep you accountable. Together, we can do this.

Sheila K. Gestring
University of South Dakota