UAFS reports few COVID cases, chancellor credits incentive program

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 306 views 

The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith’s battle against COVID-19 is proving successful. As of Wednesday (Oct. 13), the university had seven active cases of the virus, all of whom were students.

For the week of Oct. 2-8, there were zero student cases reported through campus testing, three student cases reported through self-reporting and two positive student cases reported through Arkansas Department of Health testing, according to the university’s website. There were no faculty cases reported.

Dr. Terisa Riley, UAFS chancellor, told members of the UAFS Board of Visitors on Wednesday that university administration was happy to have students back on campus for the fall semester but were doing everything they could to keep students safe.

Before the fall semester began in August the University of Arkansas system voted to continue a mask mandate for students and staff. As of August 11, the UA Board of Trustees enacted a mask mandate for all UA system campuses. This mandate requires masks of all faculty, staff, students, and visitors in indoor spaces where social distancing is not possible.

UAFS also started a vaccine incentive program – with prizes that include $1,000 university scholarships, tablets and $300 bookstore vouchers – to encourage students to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The “Lions Vax” program, which joined numerous other COVID safety programs as part of the UAFS Protecting The Pride plan, was announced to the campus Sept. 2 in an email, a UAFS news release said.

“In a continuation of our Protecting the Pride plan for fall 2021, we are excited to announce the Protecting the Pride Vaccine Incentive program: LionsVax. UAFS will hold bi-weekly drawings for prizes worth up to $1,000 throughout the fall semester to encourage our students to stay healthy and safe by getting the COVID-19 vaccine,” the email noted.

All fully-vaccinated students, regardless of when they received their vaccine, are eligible to win as long as they have completed the vaccination schedule by Nov. 8. The first drawing was Sept. 14.

We wanted “to counter vaccine hesitancy,” Riley said. “The No. 1 thing is education. We are doing that. The second thing we came up with was drawing for prizes.”

Riley said the LionsVax program is an “exception program,” and as of Monday, more than 700 students have signed up as having been vaccinated against the virus. No student has to give proof of vaccination in order to sign up for the drawings. However, if their name is drawn, they have to show their vaccination passport in order to receive the prize.

“This helps keep them honest. We don’t want to store that information, and we can’t (for their privacy. But we have them show the card before they receive a prize,” Riley said.

She added that the university is hoping more students get vaccinated in the coming weeks.

“We want more to get vaccinated as we move closer to the holidays. We want to have as much protection as possible as students are traveling. We sincerely care about our students and want them to be safe,” Riley said.