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'One-On-One' With UK President Dr. Eli Capilouto

Karyn Czar, WUKY

Students are back on campus and classes are in full swing at the University of Kentucky. As week one got underway, UK President Dr. Eli Capilouto joined WUKY for 'One-On-One'


KC: Dr. Capilouto, I know it's early, but students did return to campus life a little over a week ago and in person, classes resumed Monday. What is your assessment thus far of the start of another unprecedented year at the university?

DR. CAPILOUTO: Well, yesterday I took the opportunity to spend time in our major classroom buildings, Gatton College of Business, White Hall. Today, I spent time in the Jacob's Academic Science Building. And so I walked all those halls and I was first glad to see students there and engaged, faculty lecturing, certainly with masking and protected plexiglass if they so choose and students interacting with one another and something we've asked them to do, wear their mask and that compliance was exceptionally high. So I'm encouraged and, of course, we have a vaccination push and testing protocols for those who, for whatever reasons are choosing not to be vaccinated, we hope to move our numbers up. We had a good start from the foundation we had last spring.

KC: And Dr Capilouto, I know you've talked to years past that you love walking around campus just in the evening and kind of getting a feeling for how community life is. Do you feel that there is a better energy this year now that things are a little bit more normal compared to last year?

DR. CAPILOUTO: In my conversations with students, it is palpable in terms of their thirst to interact with faculty and one another. I think last year zapped their emotional energy and strength and they I think, gain their strength and support from one another. So it's vital that we were able to open this way and have in their presence those mature adults that are sharing experiences and wisdom to help them guide their way through college and, more important, provide those lessons that serve as their guides when they're no longer with us.

KC: What do you foresee as some of the major challenges this semester and the entire school year as of today? Of course, it's fluid and things could change tomorrow.

DR. CAPILOUTO: I think all of us are watching the same things that you used to monitor the safety and well-being of your community. But let's start with our returning students, faculty and staff with a vaccination rate of well over 70% and climbing. If you look around the state, this is probably the safest 700 acres you could find anywhere in terms of vaccination rates. But we want to get to 80% and beyond. We know and we know from our hospitalizations and hospitalizations around Kentucky and around the country, those hospitalization numbers, the serious illness, are largely being driven by unvaccinated individuals.

So vaccines are enormously important. There are lots of reasons that people have not been vaccinated. We want to work to move those numbers. That is the easiest way to protect ourselves. We certainly look at other factors you know to gauge how effective we can be in delivering our education.

KC: Dr. Capilouto, to anyone who's listening right now, be it a student, UK faculty or staff, or someone just living in our community who has been on the fence about vaccinations, especially now with the full FDA approval of the Pfizer. What would you like to say directly to them if they've been on the fence about getting that shot?

DR. CAPILOUTO: First of all, hundreds of millions of people have taken this vaccine. There's lots of monitoring in today's social media world. I think any significant adverse effect would be apparent immediately. So I think it is a safe vaccine. And we now know, even with the Delta variant, that it offers that protection against serious illness. One group that certainly we want to see higher vaccination rates and that's in our younger populations, which are starting to appear in hospitalizations. I haven't looked carefully at the numbers. I think those individuals who are older and have more serious medical problems and are unvaccinated are the most susceptible.

But still, I would say we have a very safe vaccine. The FDA has provided a further endorsement. That's a rigorous review.

KC: Governor Andy Basher signed a proclamation declaring this Healthcare Heroes Appreciation Week. What would you like to say as far as the job being done by UK HealthCare employees amid this pandemic?

DR. CAPILOUTO: Extraordinary! They are our heroes. And I believe the way we could best honor them is to be safe by being vaccinated and wearing masks. What's going to help them most is when the beds aren’t filled and the ventilators are not overused and they can step back and do what is a typical job for them and that is caring for a lot of sick people, people who are sick from other illnesses Besides COVID, but they're over tax over worked right now. Let's honor them. Let's help our neighbor. Let’s get vaccinated. Let’s wear our masks.That's how we can best honor our health care workers.

KC: Last week, when I got to see you, when students were moving in, you were all masked up, but there was a smile. You could tell on your face you were grinning from ear to ear. You could see it in your eyes. Again, we are not back to normal. But how excited are you on a personal note to get this semester kicked off.

DR. CAPILOUTO: You’re right to say that I did have a frog smile underneath my mask this year, and it was because of the hope that I could touch and hear just feel in the air, students and their families. I remember last year in contrast to this year, parents who were dropping their child off, we were uncertain at the time what role our marching band could play. And I think I learned that there were going to be limitations and I thought of that family how much they expected and were excited about participating in marching band. It's a wonderful activity. It builds community, discipline, time management, and fun. And so this year, hopefully, we're able to make those kinds of experiences possible. That's the enriching part of a residential experience.

KC: Dr. Capilouto, is there anything you'd like to add to our listening audience before we let you go?

DR. CAPILOUTO: Just thank you to our community. I know how difficult it has been. The stresses and strains continue, but I do believe in this place that's being remarkable. It has 155 years of history that is met every challenge. The way we always meet those is hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder. I have full confidence that we'll do it again.