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Boise State President On COVID-Triggered Crisis Standards Of Care: ‘It Feels Very Personal To Me’

Boise State Public Radio, Boise State University
Boise State Public Radio, Boise State University
Dr. Marlene Tromp is Boise State University's seventh president

Boise State President Dr. Marlene Tromp took a deep breath when asked about the just-activated Crisis Standards of Care across Idaho.

“It’s a situation about which all of us have grief and anxiety,” said Tromp. “And we have to be very clear about the role that the university must play in being a part of responding.”

Tromp visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the abundance of COVID-19 testing and vaccinations on campus, the absolute necessity of football fans to follow safety protocols, and how the pandemic has hit so close to home.

“I hope everybody will treat this situation like they’ve got their 93-year-old mother living in their home with them.”
Dr. Marlene Tromp

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News Good morning. I'm George Prentice. Dr. Marlene Tromp is here - president of Boise State University. There is so much to talk about, so let's just say good morning to Dr. Tromp and welcome back to the program.

DR. MARLENE TROMP: Thank you. I'm so happy to be here.

PRENTICE: Well, on Thursday, Crisis Standards of Care were declared for all of Idaho's health care systems. So, I have to ask for your reflection on that; and I'm guessing it has to impact Boise state.

TROMP: It is a situation about which all of us have grief and anxiety, and we have to be very clear about the role that the university must play in being a part of responding. Always from the beginning of the pandemic, we really recognized the importance of not just educating young people to go out there and do new work in these fields, but also we created a public health office and hired over 65 employees. We built vaccination and testing clinics on site, and opened those to the community. And thus far we've processed over 35,000 tests and delivered over 6,700 vaccinations. We know right now that approximately 98 percent of those folks who are being hospitalized are unvaccinated; and there's so much anxiety and misinformation about vaccines. And so we're really trying to educate people and make things available. I've even had emails from students asking questions, and I've put them in touch with our public health staff because they are just anxious. They've heard some things about the vaccine and they want to learn. It's really up to our community, and we're very proud that we haven't had a single case of in-classroom transmission of COVID 19 during the entire last academic year. And we've done things like shared and donated respirators. We've supported our public health officials and leaders in other parts of the community. We, for example, did testing for Boise PD when they had some COVID concerns and got a letter of commendation from our police force. So, we're really trying to be a part of helping drive forward those positive choices that will help improve the well-being of our community.

PRENTICE: You know, a lot of people are thinking about Saturday night's game. A lot of them very excited. That said, it is the equivalent of a small town when the stadium is filled. So, what can you tell us about Saturday night's Boise State football game?

TROMP: Of course, fans are really excited, but public health is a priority for us.  And we were disappointed when our fans didn't follow our mask requirement. And we've had such good compliance on campus since the pandemic began… that it was a real surprise and disappointment to us that…you know, we expected there to be some people that we'd have to remind. But it was… I think it was the excitement of the game. People got caught up so much in the excitement of the game. It really requires the cooperation of our community. When you've got, as you said, -that equivalent of a small city, it really requires the cooperation of those people to care about our community. And of course, we've been following all the local, state and athletic conference guidelines, and we've been unusual in asking people to wear facial coverings during our athletic events. And we also know that many people in our state have elected not to have that vaccine. And we've seen a lot of large-scale events in recent weeks in the community. The Eastern Idaho State Fair had record breaking attendance as did Art in the Park. And we haven't seen large upticks of cases on our own campus. And I've talked to presidents around the country that have big football programs in stadiums, and they haven't seen large upticks. It must be the fact that it's outdoors that's really helping us, but we still want people to engage in those best practices, so that we keep our community healthy. You know, many folks in public health now really believe that it's going to move from a pandemic to being an endemic illness. And we have to learn how to live with the illness. And so, a part of that means really following those good public health protocols and helping to keep infection rates low in our community. So, we're trying to do new things for this game to really encourage good compliance.

PRENTICE: So real quick, I think I read that there will be a vaccination pop up, right  outside the stadium, and with it, incentives. And also, I think I read about the equivalent of safety patrols that will reward folks for doing the right thing.

TROMP: You know, our students and faculty and staff have been so amazing on campus and supporting those public health guidelines; and we want to show people that it's important enough to us that we're willing to really. Invest and engage positively. So we're going to look for the most exciting kinds of rewards that we can give people, so we can really encourage people and we're going to reward vaccinations, we're going to reward that masking, and we're going to ask our community to really help us keep football available so that people can have those experiences that make living in a college town so great. So, we really want people to support us and support us in these efforts so that we can keep football going.

PRENTICE: This instantly becomes very personal for all of us, and so tell me if it's none of my business… but I'd like to ask if COVID-10… if the pandemic has hit home for you.

TROMP: Oh, George, it's been profound for me from the very beginning. And I'll tell you how that became so. My mother, who's 93 years old…and you may recall some pictures of her at football season. You know, she's such an amazing person, and I feel so blessed to have her living in my house with me. Her bedroom is right next door to mine. And at the beginning of the pandemic, my mother, who has literally never asked me for anything in my life, called me into her room and she said to me, “Honey. I'm 93 years old. I won't live forever, but I do not want to die alone in a hospital where you cannot hold my hand. So, I want you to do everything you can to keep me safe and to keep yourself safe.” And so I feel very personally what it means for us to engage in the best possible practices. And I'm so proud that our campus has often had one-third, even sometimes one-tenth of the positivity rates of the surrounding community; and that we've been a part of helping people engage in good public health practices and providing that testing and providing those vaccination clinics. And so  it feels very personal to me, and I understand the anxiety and concern that people have. And I hope people will take even greater care now because we have more at stake now that we're in Crisis Standards of Care. And so, I hope everybody will treat this situation like they've got their 93 year old mother living in their home with them.

PRENTICE: I only have about a minute left, but I'd be remiss if I didn't ask about your bigger family. And the fact is that the caregivers of tomorrow… the researchers of tomorrow… the decision makers are all on your campus.

TROMP: That's right, and we're so proud that they've gotten an opportunity to learn and grow during this pandemic, and to see in real time what the challenges are, and to learn from that. And just like we've learned as a university and continue to learn as a university going forward, we want our students to have the opportunity to learn because it really is going to come down to that “Blue Turf” thinking, that leadership and that ability to actually learn from the challenges we face. So, I'm very proud of what we're doing for our students and working with them to become leaders.

PRENTICE: My list of questions for you is as long as my arm. And I look forward to regular conversations with you on this program. Much love to your mother. Most importantly, thank you. I know you're one of the busiest people in town. So, thank you for giving us some time this morning.

TROMP: Thank you so much, George. It's a pleasure to talk with you.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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