Taking stock and looking ahead
The following message was shared with the Ohio University community on Dec. 9, 2020.
Dear Ohio University students, employees, families, and community members,
As Fall Semester winds down, it is important to take stock of the current state of the pandemic, to stay informed about how COVID-19 may affect Spring Semester, and to work together to keep everyone safe through the holidays.
Our current context
Ohio continues to report record-setting case counts, hospitalizations and deaths. Today, after clearing 13,000 antigen tests, the state recorded 25,721 cases. While this case number is inflated because of those antigen tests, the remainder is 12,721. Ohio also recorded 81 deaths, 657 hospitalizations and 67 ICU admissions in the past 24 hours. These data likely reflect the impact of Thanksgiving. The governor reports that Ohio’s hospitals are in crisis, with many running out of beds and staff stretched thin. All counties with an Ohio University campus are classified as red on the Ohio Public Health Advisory System and remain at 70 percent or greater ICU capacity in their hospital region. The share of ICU beds occupied by COVID patients in all these regions has increased across the board.
Data released on Thursday showed sustained severe exposure and spread (Purple Level 4) in eight counties. Perhaps most dishearteningly, last week was the first since April in which Ohio’s positivity rate for COVID-19 increased above 15 percent. That meant we met our own state’s travel restriction requirements, usually intended to restrict Ohioans’ travel to and from other high-positivity rate states. The governor encourages all Ohioans to stay home except for necessary trips for supplies.
Preparing for spring
In response to the current rate of spread and to keep our campuses safe in the spring, we will be increasing our testing capacity. As you likely read in President Nellis’ Spring Semester announcement, our students will take a mail-in COVID-19 test before they return to campus for Spring Semester. Once back on campus, students will participate in regularly scheduled asymptomatic tests. Those who live on the Athens campus will test every week, and off-campus Athens students will test every other week. Regional Campus students and employees who participate in on-campus activities will also test every other week. In preparation for this increased testing frequency, Ohio University has developed a partnership with Vault Health, which provides a saliva COVID test that is one of the most accurate on the market. This new asymptomatic testing program will run out of our tennis complex (next to the Ping Center) and will have the capacity to process 1,000 tests a day. Vault also will provide the at-home tests we will use before students return to campus. We will continue to use CVS for wide-net testing to contain outbreaks.
We know that testing early and often is imperative to being together on campus again. So, we thank you in advance for your cooperation and ask you to stay tuned as we share details about your future role to play in keeping campus open.
Testing now and through the holidays
It is important to know your status before you travel or gather for the holidays, and we can help with that. Asymptomatic tests are available for students and full-time staff through Dec. 13. You can use the link you’ve used before or, if this is your first asymptomatic test, email COVIDoperations@ohio.edu to schedule a test.
If you are symptomatic or have a known exposure to a positive person, call the COVID-19 Hotline: 877-OU-COV19 (877-682-6819). The hotline will be available through the winter break for all OHIO students and staff. Information on holiday hours, as well as what out-of-state students should do if they are sick or exposed during the winter break, is available on the hotline page as well.
Vaccine on the horizon
We currently have two vaccines under consideration by the FDA for an emergency use authorization, and Governor DeWine has begun to release rollout plans. Healthcare workers and nursing home residents will begin to receive vaccinations before the New Year. Beyond those two populations, the remainder of the roll-out is still under consideration and will vary by state. There are a variety of predictions about when the vaccine will be available for the general public, but it is likely to be no sooner than summer. While the vaccine provides hopeful news, it will be some months before we can stop social distancing measures. We will need several months to vaccinate 70 percent of the population before herd immunity will stop the transmission of COVID-19. Until then, we will continue wearing our masks, socially distancing and washing our hands. These easy, protective measures are essential until enough of the population is vaccinated to stop the virus spread.
Since the beginning of Fall Semester, we have had a total of 863 positive COVID cases from all campuses reported through our hotline. Of that total, 808 were students, 748 of them located in Athens, with 168 of those living in residence halls. In the last week, the hotline reported 54 new positive cases in Athens, four at the Zanesville campus, two each at the Lancaster, Eastern and Dublin campuses, one each at the Chillicothe and Southern campuses, and no new cases at the Cleveland campus. More details on can be found on our dashboard.
Our coordinated efforts will beat this in the end
Burnout is real at the end of any semester, but the end to a pandemic semester brings a host of new challenges: so many of us are working through a busy task list, preparing for altered holiday traditions, worrying about the health of loved ones, and trying to cope with pandemic life all at the same time. Even though we are sheltering through the winter solstice in separate households, I hope we can all sense that we are part of resilient communities whose coordinated efforts will beat this in the end. Know that my thoughts go out to each of you as we work together in this challenging time to bring about the brighter future ahead.
Dr. Gillian Ice
Special Assistant to the President for Public Health Operations