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Safely planning for fun and self-care

Published: February 23, 2021 Author: Staff reports

The following message was shared with the University community on February 23, 2021: 

Dear OHIO community members,

I am happy to report that COVID-19 case numbers continue to decrease across the country and state. Most counties with an OHIO campus are similarly on the downtrend. With that said, Athens County now has the highest case rate in the state, although we are showing signs of decline in both campus and county rates.

The decrease in case rates is encouraging, as is the increase in vaccination rates: Over 12 percent of Ohioans have had at least one dose of the vaccine, including nearly 60 percent of those over 80 years old. Each of us can contribute to both positive trends by practicing healthy habits like wearing masks and social distancing, and by encouraging those we care about to get the vaccine when it is available to them.

COVID-19 testing compliance
Thanks to the many of you across OHIO who have adhered to your asymptomatic testing schedules. Unfortunately, some students have not been completing the required tests. We are continuing to run compliance checks, and those students who remain out of compliance will be restricted from accessing campus and could face disciplinary action. If you have not completed your required testing, please do so immediately to avoid these consequences.

Vaccine rollout: what's next?
At yesterday’s press briefing, Gov. DeWine announced that Ohio will continue focusing on age groups in its phased vaccination program, going backward in five-year increments. This approach is in line with his stated goal of protecting those at highest risk, as 97  percent of COVID deaths are among those 50 years of age and older. The governor also indicated that the next eligible group, the 60+ group, may also include certain sub-groups who are vulnerable due to exposure. He did not provide timelines for these next phases.

In partnership with Ohio's Minority Health Vaccine Advisory Group, the Ohio Department of Health will hold a series of virtual town halls with members of minority populations. Because minority communities have been disproportionately hurt by the pandemic, it is particularly important to answer questions and dispel myths about the COVID-19 vaccine. The series kicked off last night with an event focused on African American Ohioans, and also will include events for Hispanic/Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and rural Ohioans. The series is available live and on-demand after the events.

Safely planning for fun and self-care
At the beginning of the pandemic, I started new activities to keep myself connected with people, to relieve stress and to have fun. I enjoyed virtual meetings with friends, started complicated cooking and crochet projects, and explored new outdoor places. But Zoom/Teams fatigue set in, work got intense, and my self-care routine faded. Now with pandemic fatigue increasing for us all, I’m thinking again about self-care: How can we connect with others? How can we manage stress and safely have fun?

Connecting with others safely will be easier as the weather warms since outdoor activities are safer than gathering indoors. Campus Recreation has a menu of activities to offer on the Athens campus, including hiking, canoeing and Wellness Break trips. They also offer a Guide to Getting Outside during the pandemic. Another Athens outdoor option is The OHIO Museum Complex’s series of self-guided outdoor tours. Other in-person events on the Athens campus include art exhibits, job search workshops, and a pickleball tournament.

For those on our regional and extension campuses, I encourage you to visit a nearby state park or find a local trail to explore. I recently braved an iced-over Hocking Hills State Park with a couple of friends (and safety equipment), and it was spectacular. Maybe these activities aren’t what you pictured yourself doing in college, but it is refreshing to get out of our routines and experience new surroundings.

Each campus has a calendar of events, both virtual and in-person, with a wide range of topics and formats. On the Athens campus, virtual options include Community Art Nights with Passion Works, a sustainability film series, live concerts, lectures on all kinds of fascinating topics, coping clinics, an opera performance, and a science café focused on OHIO’s COVID-19 wastewater surveillance program; Bobcats on any campus are welcome to join these virtual events.

I hope you will experience something during your time at OHIO that gives you a fun pandemic story to tell someday. It takes some flexibility and creativity, but students who have found ways to stay engaged (even virtually) are saying it makes them feel good and they meet new people, sometimes even through a computer window.

How to cope: students' advice
Organized events are one thing, but I know many of you also are navigating how to safely enjoy your social lives. I can only imagine how hard it must be to feel pulled between a fun night out with friends and the realities of masks and social distancing. My colleague Rebekah Crawford, visiting professor of community and public health, is conducting focus groups with students who are sharing their “pandemic year” experiences. I was encouraged to learn how many of you are finding ways to connect by making a few tweaks that protect your health. (To share your experience, register for ongoing focus groups here.)

For example, one student said they feel good knowing that their friend group tests regularly for COVID-19 because it makes hanging out less stressful and more fun. Another mentioned they limit exposure by going out just one night a week instead of three in a row, and another said they visit with no more than four friends at a time. Some students check the Athens Housing tab on the University’s COVID-19 dashboard to avoid a cluster. One group of housemates brought the nightlife home by building a karaoke stage in their basement, complete with strobe lights. They “perform” there nightly and say it is keeping them sane

These are creative examples of how people are finding ways to have college experiences without putting themselves or their friends at risk. I admire these students and invite all of us to find similar “pandemic hacks” that promote self-care without disregarding the health of others.

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