Do your part to slow the spread
The following message was shared with the Ohio University community on Jan. 26, 2021.
Dear OHIO community members,
As we start week two of Spring Semester, COVID case rates have been declining in the state. Case rates in each of the counties with an OHIO campus have fluctuated but largely have remained high. With students back on campus, 104 positive tests have been reported by Vault Health since January 19; the majority from the Athens campus. As of today, 37 students are in isolation housing, 57 are in quarantine, and yesterday Wilson Hall changed to red alert status on OHIO’s Housing Advisory system.
We anticipated this increase in cases, and we must act to prevent further outbreaks. That means we all must recommit to the basic prevention measures we’ve heard since last spring: wear a mask, maintain a minimum distance of six feet between people, and wash your hands. Though simple, these practices give us the best chances of staying healthy and keeping campus open.
On and off-campus behavior
Many of us have seen students who are not adhering to the Presidential Health Directives. You may have seen photos of crowded lines on Court Street on social media. Although these students are not on University property, their behavior directly impacts the entire OHIO community and our community-at-large. When people do not stay distanced and do not wear masks, we all suffer from the spread of disease. Adhering to the Directives requires that students, faculty and staff follow public health measures both on campus and off.
If you are visiting any campus buildings, you must both wear your mask and keep six feet of distance or staff will ask you to leave. The Presidential Health Directives include both a mask policy and a social distancing policy. It does not matter if the person you are next to is a roommate -- when you are in public, even with your household, you must maintain distance and wear a mask. It is too easy for “pods” to mingle, which makes us susceptible to rampant disease that could close our campuses.
I know the dining halls have been a source of frustration for many of you. People are reporting long waits for food and crowded lines, with some individuals not social distancing or wearing masks. I hear the frustrations of those of you who feel you have waited too long, of those of you who have felt unsafe in line, and of Culinary Services staff who have had to interrupt their core job duties to enforce public health compliance.
This situation is not acceptable, and we all have a role to play in improving it. Culinary Services has added new signage to help with line flow and physical distancing. Flow should also improve as students who are new to campus realize that they do not have to arrive on the hour for a meal, and as new employees become proficient at their jobs. Culinary Services also has re-launched its OHIO EATS Meals app, which allows you to avoid lines by ordering and picking up pre-ordered meals, and has increased the number of venues available for meal pick-up. Please follow the signage, ask for space if being crowded, and experiment with different arrival times.
The state of Ohio continues to roll out its phased vaccination program, with Phase 1B beginning last week for those over 80 years old. Each week, more individuals are eligible for vaccines according to the phased program. Here on the Athens Campus, a 104-year-old man received the first dose of his vaccine at the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine’s new Heritage Hall, where Ohio University has partnered with the Athens City-County Health Department to host weekly vaccine clinics. You can use the state’s vaccine locator tool to find information about these clinics as well as others available in Athens and every county in the state of Ohio.
Many of you have asked me if getting the vaccine could make you test positive for COVID-19. The answer is no. According to the Centers for Disease Control, none of the COVID-19 vaccines currently in use or in clinical trials in the United States can cause you to test positive on viral tests, which test for current infections. If your body develops an immune response—the goal of vaccination—there is a possibility you may test positive on some antibody tests. Antibody tests indicate you had a previous infection and that you may have some level of protection against the virus. We do not use antibody tests at Ohio University.
Tomorrow is a great opportunity for you to ask questions about the vaccine or the pandemic, when I participate in an Ask the Experts panel hosted by the University live on Facebook. I’ll join Ken Johnson, executive dean and chief medical affairs officer at Ohio University, and Jack Pepper, administrator of the Athens City-County Health Department, to answer questions about COVID-19 live during this lunchtime discussion. You can post your questions here in comments, and we will address them tomorrow.
This pandemic is an exhausting exercise in patience and endurance that none of us wanted or expected. Still, the semester we all hope for remains possible. If the virus spread is unchecked, our isolation/quarantine halls will fill up, our public health system will become overburdened, and our time on campus could end early. In a more successful scenario, we could have 12 more weeks here in Athens, safely connecting with our friends while the weather gets warmer and sunnier.
The difference between these two potential paths is how well we practice basic health principles like wearing masks, washing hands and staying apart. Now is the time for us all to follow the path that protects our time together.
Dr. Gillian Ice
Special Assistant to the President for Public Health Operations