Consider This! Simplifying the COVID-19 conversation – A Reflection of COVID-19 and the Fall Semester

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Featured Speakers: 

  • Heidi Beidinger-Burnett, Director, Eck Institute for Global Health Masters Program; Associate Professor of the Practice, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Notre Dame; President of the St. Joseph County Board of Health
  • Mary Ann McDowell, PhD, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences and Member of the Eck Institute for Global Health, University of Notre Dame
  • Shannon B. Cullinan, Executive Vice President, University of Notre Dame
  • David C. Bailey, Vice President for Strategic Planning and Institutional Research, University of Notre Dame

This week, hosts Heidi Beidinger-Burnett, Director, Eck Institute for Global Health and Mary Ann McDowell, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences were joined by guests Shannon B. Cullinan ’93, University of Notre Dame’s Executive Vice President and David C. Bailey ’83, Vice President for Strategic Planning and Institutional Research at the University of Notre Dame. Notre Dame took a unique approach to the fall semester during the pandemic—one that had many ups and downs. These guests are here to discuss their efforts over the last semester and what was learned.

After guests were introduced, the “Rumor Has It” portion of the show took place. The first rumor was, “Will Notre Dame require students and staff to be vaccinated before returning back to campus?” Cullinan stated that this would not be possible before the spring semester, however, it is a possibility that it could happen before the fall semester of 2021. The second rumor was “We heard students were hospitalized during the fall semester. Is this true?” Bailey stated that this is true. Three students were hospitalized. However, they were each only there for a few days, and all were released and are currently healthy. 

Next, the three speakers discussed the headlines regarding Covid. This posed a question for Cullinan, which was “Did revenue play into the decision to come back in the fall?” Cullinan responded that it did not, as Notre Dame is very lucky in the sense that tuition only accounts for 32% of revenue at the University of Notre Dame. The second headline was regarding furloughs and firings of employees at different universities. Luckily, Notre Dame did not have to fire or furlough a single person due to Covid-19. The guests attribute this to decades of impressive financial management. Another financial question was about the amount of money spent on testing at Notre Dame. Cullinan stated that the original budget of Notre Dame was 30 million dollars. 

Then, the university’s decisions regarding mental health support were discussed. The university started a 7-day-a-week care and concern team, to call and talk about the physical and mental wellbeing of students in quarantine.  There is also higher advertising for mental health programs around campus to account for the mental health obstacles faced due to Covid-19. With regards to staff and faculty, there was a therapist at the wellness center added to care for faculty and staff. This therapist was fully booked during the semester. They are further looking into plans to better support staff during this time.

Next, they talked about the outdoor spaces available on campus. The outdoor spaces, in the warmer months, were vastly utilized by students. However, in the colder months, these spaces will need to be reconsidered. There are discussions regarding the larger indoor spaces which can possibly be used for students to remain active. 

This was followed by the following question: “What did we learn in the fall semester that will lead to changes in the spring?” Cullinan said that the number one thing is that surveillance testing needs to be prioritized and done more often. In addition to doing regular surveillance testing, they will implement ways to distinguish which pockets of the university are more at risk for infection at given times, and more rigorously test those populations. In addition, a rapid PCR test will be administered. This will be very impactful, as the PCR test is considered widely to be more accurate than a rapid antigen test, but it typically takes longer to receive results. These tests will have the same accuracy as a regular PCR, but also be much quicker.

Finally, audience questions were welcomed. A notable question was “What is the plan for dining on campus in the Spring?” The guests said that there will likely be very, very low capacity of students in indoor dining. Also, heated tents will be active again in the spring semester. 

It is clear from this final event that the administration learned many lessons regarding what worked and what did not in the fall semester. Going forward into the spring, these lessons will undoubtedly be used to guide decisions of public health and community at Notre Dame.

Visit the event page for more.


  • 11:22—Three students were hospitalized in the fall semester, all of whom recovered within days. 
  • 23:30—Pre matriculation testing was discussed. Students will all be tested after the winter session to avoid a spike in cases amidst their return. 
  • 26:40—While there were many obstacles in the fall semester, these lessons will be helpful in the spring semester.
  • 33:10—Mental health was discussed. Steps will continue to be taken to account for the pandemic-caused decline in mental health of students and faculty.
  • 43:02—Changes in the spring semester were discussed; surveillance testing will occur more frequently in the spring.

  • We will test all students before they come back, and then the following week we will start surveillance tests.” (Shannon Cullinan, 24:08)
  • “It is critically important for us to have our students here, and hopefully other [universities] will follow.” (David Bailey, 26:40)
  • “We know a lot more now—we know the how, where and when transmissions took place.” (David Bailey, 40:38)
  • “We have an exceptional financial team—these are not the people you always see, know about, or hear about.” (Shannon Cullinan, 21:01)
  • “We always think about classrooms and faculty, and that that is all that a university is…not that it is actually an ecosystem that needs to function.” (Mary Ann McDowell, 36:15)


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