Dean's Update

July 30, 2021 - Aron Sousa, MD


By now most of you know that MSU has moved to a mask and vaccine mandate for students AND faculty and staff. The mask mandate is just like our world a few months ago, except there will be more people in our offices and classrooms.

The vaccine mandate is clearly new, and I am in complete support of both the vaccine and mask mandates. 

The College of Human Medicine already has a vaccine requirement for students to get a clinical assignment. Because all our students have clinical assignments, implementing the vaccine mandate for students will follow the same process as the clinical assignment requirement.

The college will be a part of the MSU process for implementing the faculty and staff vaccine mandate. I understand the university is working on a vaccine registry and will be working with the bargaining units on the timeline for documenting vaccination.  

We will learn more in the next week or so, as the university establishes its process for implementing the vaccine mandate. I want to express to Dr. Stanley and his team my deep appreciation for this thoughtful decision.

Vaccinated with you, 

PS - here's my first Dean's Update:


This week the university deans met to talk about MSU’s progress on its new strategic plan. You can find resources on the planning process and this spring’s presentations about progress on the plan at the university’s strategic planning website. The plan will be finalized by the board of trustees yet this year, which means we are close to the end of the process.

Our college needs to conduct strategic planning in the next year as well. We are required to have a strategic plan for our accreditation cycle, and with a new MSU strategic plan, the college will be able to dovetail its plan with the university’s. Furthermore, it would be best to have the next dean guide the college’s strategic plan, so time will be tight. We can get some data collection done in the fall, so the college is ready to move on strategic planning with the choice of the next dean.

The MSU plan has cross cutting goals that are to be expected (student success, faculty and staff success, advancing discovery/scholarship/arts, and financial and environmental stewardship) as well as a robust goal on diversity, equity, and inclusion and a goal to enhance health and systems of health. Given the pandemic, the expansion of the health economy to nearly 20% of the US economy, the clear disparity and inequity manifest in health care, and the workforce needs of our health organizations, a broadly understood health effort across the university makes sense.

If 20% of the economy is directly health related and growing, it is likely that at least 20% of the university’s graduates will be working in health care even if their major is not directly in health care, for example, communications or finance. The better we all prepare these graduates, the more likely we will be able to tackle difficult challenges like addressing disparities and inequity in health. The better we prepare all students to think about science, evidence, and health, the better our communities will be able to handle the health and political challenges we have faced in the pandemic, like the infatuation with hydroxychloroquine, resistance to masking, and vaccine hesitancy/obstinacy.

Let’s talk about when people should mask. I am not talking about formal policy or politics, just a doctor talking about masking. The CDC has changed its guidance to encourage vaccinated and unvaccinated people to wear masks in areas of “high or substantial transmission.” As of the evening of July 29, neither Kent nor Ingham County are in those categories, but Ionia and Jackson counties are both in the “substantial transmission” category. So, as of Thursday the CDC would say everyone in Ionia and Jackson counties should be masking when in public, indoor spaces. Per the CDC, that would not be the case in Kent or Ingham counties…but I am confident we will be there any day now.

The CDC has also suggested that people who are likely immunocompromised wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission in their area. The data indicates that immunosuppressed people are not as well protected by the vaccines because their immune system is not adequately stimulated by the vaccines. (There is reason to think a third shot might trigger a stronger response in transplant patients.) People in this situation have a double risk because they are less likely to be protected by the vaccine and more at risk from COVID-19. About 5% of the US population may be in this immunocompromised group including people with cancer, people who have received transplants, and people on immunosuppressing drugs for autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease.

We have a responsibility to protect those around us who are at risk from COVID-19 (including the unvaccinated), and the best way to protect people who are immunocompromised is to be vaccinated. Since the delta variant is so transmissible, with even some transmission among the vaccinated, we should be wearing masks when there is meaningful transmission in the community.

I live in Ingham County, where two to four percent of tests are positive and cases are well below the level of prior surges. While Ingham County does not have “substantial” transmission, I have decided to wear a mask when I am in public, indoor spaces. In models, mask use radically decreases illness and hospitalization, and if our goal is to keep cases low so we can be together in the fall, we need to seriously consider masking as our normal behavior. Other faculty and some departments have made the same choice. These are choices about masking and not masking rules or mandates.

If you are not vaccinated, I want to talk. My phone is 517-353-1730, and I am here to answer your questions about the vaccine. Serious disease from COVID-19 is preventable. The unvaccinated are really at risk and should be wearing a mask around people and spatially distancing regardless of the level of COVID-19 in their community. That is doubly true if you are or are around someone who is immunocompromised. I’ve belabored the point for months.

Wash your hands and if you are vaccinated consider normalizing mask wearing. If you are unvaccinated…we will always help, and we have people who can answer your questions, but know that you and yours are at risk.

Serving the people with you,


Aron Sousa, MD
Interim Dean

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