Ohio University

Return-to-campus COVID-19 update

Published: January 12, 2021 Author: Staff reports


The following message was shared with the Ohio University community on Jan. 12, 2021.

Dear OHIO community members,

I hope everyone had a restful and safe holiday season. As we prepare to return to campus, I would like to update you on the state of COVID-19 in Ohio, review our testing protocols, and share an update on vaccine rollout in Ohio. 

All counties with an Ohio University campus are currently classified as red on the Ohio Public Health Advisory System, indicating very high levels of exposure and spread. The seven-day moving average has remained between 7,000 and 9,000 cases per day.  Over the last three weeks, Ohio has reported an average of 74 deaths per day, and hospitalizations have ranged from 200-500 per day.  These numbers indicate that we continue to have extensive community spread and we have yet to experience the full impact of the winter holidays.  As always, it is critical that we all implement public health guidelines like physical distancing, wearing masks and washing hands.

Pre-arrival testing

Over the Winter Break Closure, my team sent pre-arrival testing information to students across all OHIO campuses. We asked approximately 10,000 students with an on-campus presence to complete at-home tests. According to these interactions, to date:

  • The positivity rate of pre-arrival testing is currently 3.6%. 
  • Through testing and exemptions, we have identified 169 infected students and 42 close contacts. 
  • We asked COVID+ students to complete their isolation or quarantine before returning to campus.

These are important first steps in preventing COVID on campus, but together we will continue to take measures to manage outbreaks during this peak of the pandemic in Ohio and the nation. Remaining vigilant means that, in addition to the at-home tests and standard prevention measures (handwashing, physical distance, masks, cleaning), we will continue to test students regularly.

Athens campus testing

Ohio University’s new COVID-19 asymptomatic testing program with Vault Health is up and running at the University’s Golf and Tennis Center next to the Ping Center. Athens campus students and employees can drop in this week for a test and can schedule continued tests using this online scheduler. Regional campus students and employees also will participate in Vault asymptomatic testing via at-home tests.  

Detailed information about testing protocols for students and employees on all campuses is available here, and students should also check their Catmail for information. Residential housing students are required to test weekly, off-campus students biweekly, and regional campus students biweekly as well. Employees who will regularly be on any campus are encouraged to test biweekly.

When will I get my vaccine?

The rollout of the COVID vaccine in Ohio has been complex and remains dependent on both federal and state allocations. On Tuesdays, the federal government tells the State of Ohio how many vaccines it will receive that week; the state then distributes those vaccines to health systems and counties. At this point the state is not receiving enough doses to meet the Ohio Department of Health’s vaccination goals. Because of the low number of available vaccines, the only organizations that may distribute vaccines are health systems and county health departments. This means Ohio University currently does not have access to any vaccines. 

There has been varying distribution to and acceptance of vaccines among health systems and county health departments. As a result, some health systems have had leftover doses after offering vaccinations to those in Ohio’s Phase 1A category and have shared those with health professions students. This is the exception and not the norm. On our Athens campus, for instance, students in the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and the College of Health Sciences and Professions’ School of Nursing have not had access to the vaccine. 

Similarly, as we move to Phase 1B, some counties will move through the category more quickly simply because fewer people opt for the vaccination. In counties with OHIO campuses, individuals over the age of 65 soon will be eligible for their vaccine; the state will start with 80 and older and go down in five-year age bands. The focus on older adults is intended to meet the goal of saving lives of the most vulnerable. This distribution will be managed by local health departments – each providing a different registration method. When we get information for each county with an OHIO campus, we will share it on the Be Safe Bobcats website and through our COVID Operations social media accounts. Finally, it’s important to know that the public school educators category listed in Phase 1B does not currently include college professors. This is because Governor DeWine has prioritized getting K-12 students back in the classroom. We will let you know as soon as we have information that pertains to higher education.

An unprecedented rollout

As our fatigue and anxiety about the virus continues, I have heard a lot of critiques of the vaccine rollout. Although it has not gone as smoothly as we may have liked, it is important to remember that a vaccine rollout of this nature and size has never been accomplished at the speed we are attempting.  Widespread distribution of any vaccine is challenging but the COVID-19 vaccines have some special characteristics that make distribution especially challenging.

I think it is also important for us to recognize that the very people tasked with distributing the vaccine – health systems and departments – must continue to care for COVID-19 patients, and continue to manage case investigation, contact tracing, testing, data analysis and communications related to active COVID cases. Our health care providers and health departments have worked without a break since March – that's going on 10 months straight of seven days a week with long hours. I hope you will join me in expressing a great deal of gratitude for our local healthcare providers and public health professionals for the work that they have undertaken and will continue to undertake for months to come.

What is OHIO's role?

Though we don’t have the ability to administer vaccines, the University is providing logistical support to the Athens City-County Health Department to assist in their distribution. We will continue to support ongoing vaccine distribution efforts and work with our clinical and pharmacological partners to distribute the vaccine once it becomes more widely available. In the meantime, we will continue to advocate for high-risk groups and share information with our communities.

After so many difficult months it is challenging to be patient when we know the vaccine is out there. I am hopeful that rollout will move faster as we build and flex the distribution system. Stay tuned for new information and know that, even as we shelter in our separate households, we are connected in our commitment to each other’s health and safety.

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