Weekly public health update: March 23, 2021
The following message was shared with the Ohio University community on March 23, 2021.
Dear OHIO community members,
Congratulations to OHIO Men’s Basketball for advancing to the second round in the NCAA tournament, and to the women for their strong play in the WNIT. Their hard work and training prepared them for these challenges, and their strong adherence to COVID-19 protocols ensured they were able to compete in these post-season games. I am thankful to the players and the Intercollegiate Athletics Committee staff who supported them.
Some Bobcat fans, though, took celebrating a little too far. A large gathering of individuals, many unmasked, crowded onto Court Street Saturday night to celebrate the win. Some feel this was a much-needed shared experience and expression of school spirit, while others feel that it was inappropriate behavior that put our community at risk.
Regardless of people’s feelings on the situation, the fact is that it did increase the likelihood of virus spread. Many college students have not had COVID-19 yet, re-infection is possible, and variants are still taking hold. If we experience a spike in cases, as some universities have recently, we will lose ground in a fight that we have been winning this semester.
Our case and positivity rates have decreased and stayed low … let’s not blow it now. No one wants to miss graduation because they are stuck in quarantine or isolation. Celebrating safely shows true school spirit since it is the best way to protect this special place and the people in it.
K-12 guidance and higher ed comparisons
Many of you have asked whether the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on physical distancing in K-12 schools (three feet instead of six) also applies to higher education settings. It does not. The CDC still recommends physical distance of at least six feet for institutions of higher education.
The recommendations are different for higher education because transmission is higher among adults and teenagers than among younger children. This is due to greater mobility (shopping, dining out, etc.), more risk-taking behaviors, and more travel to and from other cities and states among college students than K-12 students. OHIO will continue to follow the most up-to-date CDC recommendations on physical distancing.
Case counts decline, vaccination rates increase
The state average COVID-19 case count continues to decline: 143.8 per 100,000 compared to 155 last week. Case rates in counties with OHIO campuses are generally lower than in February and early March but seem to have plateaued. The governor will lift public health measures when the state average gets to 50 per 100,000 people. Whether we achieve that goal or move in the opposite direction is on us. I also am tired of taking these precautions but extending the pandemic is worse.
Vaccines are helping: more than 23 percent of Ohioans have started a vaccine, with about 13 percent having completed their vaccine. So far very few college-age individuals have been eligible to receive a vaccine, so only 9 percent of individuals in the 20-29 age group have started a vaccine, and 6.25 percent of that same age group have completed their vaccine. You can track vaccination rates in Ohio by county, age group and more on the state’s COVID-19 Vaccination Dashboard.
The governor announced yesterday that all Ohioans aged 16 and up may register for a vaccine with providers who are not filling their available appointments. This means students can call local providers and try to schedule an appointment in advance of the March 29 official date for age 16 and older!
As of last week, our Voluntary Vaccine Registry has received 739 completed responses across all OHIO campuses. We look forward to more registrations as vaccine access expands.
Asymptomatic testing required for students
Despite the indicators that we are rounding the bend, the fact remains that stopping the spread of COVID-19 is the only thing that will get us out of this situation. A critical tool in managing the spread is asymptomatic testing, which OHIO students are required to do if they have a regular campus presence. COVID Operations is doing regular compliance checks of all on-campus and off-campus students.
Students found to be noncompliant will receive emails warning that they must test or their campus access will be restricted. Continued noncompliance will lead to access restriction and referral to Community Standards and Student Responsibility. Many students have now been through this process, but it is easy to avoid – just test as required.
Be smart about socializing
Asymptomatic spread at gatherings is still one of the biggest threats to our campus – one huge party could easily derail our impressive spring semester track record. Although I recommend that you gather with only those you live with, if you are going to host or attend a gathering, do it as safely as possible.
• Keep gatherings to fewer than 10 people. If a small gathering accidentally grows too large, leave.
• Wear a mask. We all are tired of them! But they stop droplets from infecting others.
• When someone gets too close in a conversation, it is easy to step back and maintain distance.
• If you’re headed out with friends, let them know it makes you uncomfortable to be in groups of unmasked individuals.
• If you’re going out to eat or drink, do it outdoors -- a recent study found that adults with positive COVID-19 test results were twice as likely to have reported going to locations that offered on-site eating and drinking options than those with negative test results.
There are infinite decisions you can make each day to help stop the spread of disease in our community.
OHIO's cherry blossoms: a tradition we can safely enjoy
Buds have formed on OHIO’s cherry trees along the bike path, and blooms have emerged on the trees on East Green. People have already started to gather around them to enjoy the spring weather. This is a welcome opportunity to participate in an annual campus tradition that is relatively safe during the pandemic. Be sure to follow COVID-19 public health measures while enjoying these beautiful trees: physical distancing of at least six feet, wearing masks, and gathering only with members of your own household. The cherry blossoms are beautiful signs of better days ahead, but they remain fragile. Please protect our community’s health while it too is in this fragile but hopeful stage.
Dr. Gillian Ice
Special Assistant to the President for Public Health Operations