Ohio University weekly public health update, Oct. 6, 2020
The following message was shared with the OHIO community Oct. 6, 2020.
As we begin the second week of phase two, we are faced with many challenges. While the state COVID-19 cases decreased over the week, Athens and Muskingum counties’ numbers increased. Muskingum county was elevated to red (“very high exposure/spread”) status because of its 45% increase in cases and increased hospitalizations. Thankfully, the surge in Muskingum county has had minimal impact on Ohio University’s Zanesville campus, with only one positive case and one pending test.
While Athens County remains in orange (“increased exposure/spread”) status, the sustained escalation in transmission is extremely concerning and is in large part due to an increase in student infections. I encourage you to look at the details in Ohio University’s dashboard, and I want to highlight that of the 295 positive test results reported through our hotline, 287 of them were from Athens students. This means that 97% of the infections in all our campus locations are in Athens, and that 88% of those are in its off-campus student community. In fact, we have had only had 27 students in residence halls test positive. I write today’s update as an appeal to our whole community to continue to follow COVID-19 safety protocols despite “pandemic fatigue.” Even though it feels like much is outside our control, we can still decide to wear a mask, stay six feet apart, and wash our hands. We know these things decrease community spread.
I would also like to send a particular message to our students who are most at risk: our off-campus Athens students. I am also sick of this pandemic and hungry for normality, and I can’t imagine what this must be like for you. As young people, your lives and social groups have been so disrupted. However, I still encourage you to remember that though your risk of catastrophic consequences from coronavirus is low it doesn’t mean that there will be no consequences if you get sick.
Think about your friend group and realize that one of them could “draw the wild card” and become extremely ill. We know that it is very likely that some students will even need to be hospitalized. I hope we don’t experience any deaths, but we know that it can happen: Appalachian State University lost a perfectly healthy 19-year-old student to COVID-19 just a week ago. And, the consequences aren’t just about you, your friends, or people your age anyway. There is a strong chance that if you take risks and become infected you could accidentally pass it on to someone you care about who is not as young or as healthy as you. We know that as the numbers in the county rise, the risk to our community increases: the risks to your professors increase; the risks to your family increase; and the risks to your major increase.
Beyond these medical risks, if the cases become unsustainable for the Athens City-County Health Department and Ohio University to manage it might mean you lose access to Athens and being with your friends altogether. The number of cases and rate of spread already means that many of your friends who want to be here cannot join you. I get emails every day from parents whose students want desperately to return to campus. You have lots of control over your behavior right now. Remember that someone else could end up paying for choices you are making. The only way to be sure you don’t look back on this time and feel severe regret for the unintended consequences of today’s actions is to behave in ways that protect everybody’s wellness.
Does this mean that you can’t be social? That you must sit in your dorm rooms or apartments alone? No. Of course not. There are many activities that you can do safely. Find your “pod” or a small friend group. Commit to each other to be careful and keep each other safe. Choose outdoor activities and enjoy them together when you can. This is the opportunity to make some really close friends and do memorable things together. If you do develop symptoms or test positive, isolate yourself and inform those around you so they can quarantine. This is what good friends do. Keep each other accountable, keep each other safe, and look out for each other.
Even though it feels like so much is out of our control right now there is one more thing that everyone can do help our community and keep our healthcare system from being overrun. Please get a flu vaccine. Flu and COVID have many overlapping symptoms. If you get the flu, we are going to need to treat you like you have COVID-19 just to be sure. For instance, if you have flu symptoms, you will be asked to isolate, and you will be tested for COVID. In addition, if even a few people in our community get the flu on top of the COVID-19 cases it is likely to overload our health system and interfere with our ability to take good care of sick people. It’s great that there are many options for free or low cost flu shots: you can get them at your primary care provider, OhioHealth Campus Care or at a local pharmacy. Health departments in each Ohio University county also provide a variety of flu vaccine clinics. This is the year to get a flu shot, even if that’s not in your normal routine. Watch for information about upcoming flu shot clinics.
One of my favorite things about Ohio University is being part of this community. Bobcats and Athens community members look out for each other, it's just as simple as that. Now more than ever we need you to show your school spirit, your commitment to this beautiful place, and your fierce loyalty to your friends. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Stay away from large group gatherings. Every good choice, even if it’s a small one, will help. We need you and we are counting on you.
Dr. Gillian Ice
Special Assistant to the President for Public Health Operations