Ohio University

Small choices can make a big impact 

Published: December 15, 2020 Author: Staff reports

The following message was shared with the Ohio University community on Dec. 15, 2020.

Dear University community members,

On Dec. 11, the United States recorded more new COVID-19 cases on a single day (244,011) than on any other day during the pandemic. On Dec. 9, the nation recorded over 3,000 deaths. Ohio currently has the fifth highest death rate in the country, with 105.5 deaths per 100,000 people. This is a crucial time for the state of Ohio.

Noting the potential for Ohioans to continue spreading the virus in the coming weeks, Gov. DeWine recently asked a team of medical experts to create protocols to keep Ohioans safe through the holiday season. The Stay Safe Ohio Protocol gives 12 recommendations that help us balance living our lives while taking precautions to save lives. One of the expert advisors was our own Dr. Jody Gerome, OU-HCOM Associate Dean, who delivered an important message during the governor’s press conference on Thursday, Dec. 10. The 12 protocols that Dr. Gerome and her colleagues recommend are simple and proven ways to control the spread of this virus. Following these steps will help keep you and your loved ones safe into the New Year.  

New spring testing protocols begin before we return to campus

Last week, I explained that OHIO will launch a new asymptomatic testing program with Vault Health before the start of Spring Semester. Recently a group of OHIO students, employees and community members -- including myself and President Nellis -- had an opportunity to try this highly accurate, saliva-based PCR test. I can tell you it is non-invasive, easy to self-administer, and the process takes just a few minutes to complete. You can learn more about when and how you will take a Vault test in this video. Students who will have an on-campus presence in Spring Semester will receive some important emails during the winter break about how to order and take an at-home test before coming back to campus. Please make sure you watch your Catmail inbox for this information. 

Another testing strategy we will add to our multi-layered testing approach is wastewater surveillance testing. This effort is part of a grant project administered by the Ohio Water Resources Center and awarded on campus to Guy Riefler, civil engineering chair and professor, and Karen Coschigano, biomedical sciences associate professor. Because wastewater surveillance testing can detect remnants of the COVID-19 virus before individuals have symptoms, this testing will be part of an early warning system to detect outbreaks in residence halls. 

Campus epidemiology 

Since the beginning of Fall Semester, we have had a total of 905 positive COVID cases from all campuses reported through our hotline. Of that total, 843 were students, 780 of them located in Athens, with 170 of those living in residence halls. The Public Health Operations team has supported 3,033 students, staff, and faculty who submitted incident reports. We completed 12,242 asymptomatic tests and identified 450 positive individuals. Currently, with lower density on campus, our numbers have been low and relatively steady, with slight climbing among employees and graduate students on the Athens campus.  Please note that we have paused asymptomatic testing on the Athens campus until Jan. 4 but the COVID hotline is still active. If you are symptomatic, have tested positive, or believe you were exposed, call 877-682-6819. The hotline holiday hours are here.   

Hope for the holidays 

Yesterday, the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccines were delivered to frontline hospital staff in several locations across the country. This marks the beginning of the end! Although this is incredibly hopeful news, we aren’t out of the woods yet. What we do in the next few months while we wait for our own pandemic experiences to end will greatly affect the final tally of people who will be sickened or killed by COVID. Each of us still has a million small choices left to make to prevent the spread of disease through our communities. Perhaps the best gifts we can give this year will be the small precautions we take that will lead to ringing in a healthy 2021 for us all. 

Dr. Gillian Ice
Special Assistant to the President for Public Health Operations