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Public health update: June 22, 2021

Published: June 22, 2021 Author: Staff reports

The following message was shared with the OHIO community.

Dear OHIO community members,

Last week President Sherman, Dr. Ken Johnson and I announced new COVID-19 public health measures for OHIO campuses. Detailed in the newly revised Presidential Health Directives, these updates reflect a general relaxing of masking and physical distancing precautions for those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, in line with new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for Institutions of Higher Education.

These relaxed guidelines are made possible because the COVID-19 vaccines are working. The CDC emphasizes that layered, evidence-based prevention strategies remain critical in higher education and community settings where not everyone is vaccinated. Until more of our campus community members are fully vaccinated, OHIO will continue offering and promoting vaccination in combination with masking, physical distancing and testing of unvaccinated individuals, and other prevention measures.

The COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective, widely available, and free, yet only 43 percent of Ohioans were fully vaccinated as of yesterday. Among those age 20 to 29 in the state of Ohio, just under 34 percent of the state population is fully vaccinated. When you look at that age group in the Ohio counties that host an OHIO campus, the vaccination rates range from only 13 percent (Belmont and Lawrence counties) to 34 percent (Athens County) to a high of nearly 44 percent in Franklin County.

We must keep this data in mind as we take our masks off. The virus is becoming more infectious as it evolves and remains a risk to the unvaccinated population. Without masks the exposure risk increases for those among us who are not vaccinated.

Please select your pathway if you have not

Another freedom that comes with COVID-19 vaccination is that fully vaccinated individuals do not have to participate in asymptomatic testing on our campuses. Unvaccinated students, faculty, and staff need to test weekly through the COVID-19 Testing Pathway Program. Those who select the Vaccination Pathway will have an opportunity to upload their vaccine card to be exempt from testing. 

Vaccinated or not, if you have not yet selected a pathway, please do so immediately. Those who do not select a pathway will be expected to test weekly. Knowing how many choose the Vaccination Pathway will allow OHIO to calculate campus vaccination rates. Although Ohio University is not requiring vaccination against COVID-19, it is highly encouraged.

On the fence about vaccination? Email me with questions

If you are on the fence about getting vaccinated, I would be happy to confidentially answer any questions you have about taking this crucial step. You are welcome to email me directly. If you are not yet vaccinated but would like to be, you can book an appointment anywhere in Ohio through the state’s website.

Curiosity and uncomfortable conversations

As we begin spending time indoors in groups again, people will naturally be curious about the vaccination status of others.

Ohio University has adopted the policy and practice that OHIO faculty and staff may inquire about the vaccination status of their students or employees only if it there is a legitimate educational or business purpose or necessity. For example, a hospital or clinical practice may require that students disclose their vaccination status, or a supervisor may ask an employee who is required to travel for work to disclose their vaccination status because it affects post-travel quarantine requirements and restrictions.  

The topic is sure to come up in private conversations among peers and colleagues outside of official classroom environments or reporting structures. Etiquette experts agree that in our personal lives the question is important because the answer directly affects the health of others around us. Although curiosity alone is not a good enough reason to ask someone, determining how to safely interact with someone certainly may be.

When these uncomfortable conversations happen, we all must remember that some of us have health risks, love someone with a health risk, or simply live with young children who cannot yet be vaccinated, and the prospect of contracting or transmitting COVID-19 remains a real worry for many of us. Others do not see COVID as a significant risk and will make different choices. As long we are respectful, OHIO should be a place we can discuss differences safely.

Understanding differences and showing we care

Masked or not, we are all members of the Bobcat community, and we have a responsibility to not only protect one another’s health, but also to be understanding of our differences in beliefs and opinions.

We know that some people don’t like the idea of wearing masks, period. We also know that masks are an incredibly effective prevention measure. Continuing to put masks on in certain situations, even when not required, signals to others that we understand they may bear the burden of health vulnerabilities that we may not face.

Remember that when someone wears a mask, they may simply be trying to show others they care. It is not necessarily a sign of their vaccination status. It may also reflect a personal risk assessment based on living arrangements with loved ones who could more vulnerable.

While we navigate these challenging times and until more of our population is fully vaccinated, carrying a mask and putting it on when others do is an easy way to show that we understand and support the concerns of others.

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