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Public health update, Aug. 24, 2021

Published: August 24, 2021 Author: Staff reports

Dear OHIO community members,

Welcome to fall semester! It was nice meeting so many new students and their families during move-in weekend and seeing all the excitement at our regional campuses. I was energized by the positive feedback we received at our mobile vaccine clinic at the Class Gateway Sunday during the Athens Campus Involvement Fair.

For those of you who are new to OHIO or new to my public health updates, here you can expect to find the latest epidemiology data and information about COVID-19 initiatives on our campuses. COVID cases continue to trend up in Ohio and in every county where we have an OHIO campus. Hospital capacity is also stretched thin across the state. We have detected 44 cases through our asymptomatic testing program, primarily from our Athens campus, in the past week. Additionally, approximately 33 students reported positive tests due to symptomatic illness.  

If you test positive, experience symptoms, or are exposed to someone with COVID-19, please follow the OHIO COVID-19 Protocol.

We are likely to continue to face significant disease on all campuses. Limiting disruption to campus activities will require that each of us strictly adhere to the Presidential Health Directives

Campus vaccination rates

Vaccination rates, as calculated according to COVID-19 Testing Pathway Program selections, have increased significantly on the Athens campus. Response rates remain low for some regional campuses and for faculty.

All students, faculty, and staff are required to select one of two pathways: Vaccination Pathway (provide proof of vaccination and skip weekly testing) or Weekly Testing Pathway (participate in weekly testing). Highlights of Testing Pathway responses to date include:

  • 74.9 percent of residential housing students are fully vaccinated. Kudos to Washington Hall and Skyview Apartments for breaking the 90 percent barrier. 
  • 64 percent of students on the Athens campus are fully vaccinated – this is great news and let’s push it higher. 
  • Response rates on all regional campuses are too low: More than 50 percent of regional campus students have not selected a pathway, making it impossible to calculate student vaccination rates on those campuses. Reminders are in process.
  • Faculty continue to be the lowest respondents: Nearly 50 percent of faculty have not yet responded to the survey. 

Those who have not yet selected a pathway are automatically placed on the Weekly Testing Pathway and are required to test weekly starting this week. If you have not yet selected your pathway, please do so immediately as it directly affects our ability to calculate vaccination rates and to manage our asymptomatic testing program.  

Indoor masking: an essential precaution

As a reminder, all OHIO community members are required by the Presidential Health Directives to wear masks in all public indoor spaces on OHIO campuses. Additionally, in the City of Athens, masks are required in indoor public spaces, including businesses and restaurants, regardless of vaccination status. 

OHIO has reinstated universal masking indoors for precisely the same reason we removed the mask requirement in June: because the COVID-19 environment, and thus the risk of transmission, has significantly changed.  

We all must support each other in the public health measures that will keep our communities safe. My office has prepared these recommendations for enforcing mask policy expectations, including tips for informal interactions and guidelines for faculty and staff to report policy violations.

Wide net testing explained

Over the past few days our office has sent notices of required asymptomatic testing to individuals who may have had contact with a positive case. This "wide net testing” strategy helps us quickly identify potential outbreaks.

Potential reasons to initiate wide net testing include a concerning cluster of positive cases associated with a specific campus location, an exposure in a communal living setting, or if contact tracing indicates that a positive individual has recently been in contact with small or large numbers of other individuals, for example in a classroom or social event.

Our wide net testing strategy was successful in containing outbreaks on campus last academic year and we are confident it will again contribute to a healthy campus.

It's easy to get a COVID-19 vaccine

We hosted our first of 19 COVID-19 vaccination clinics on the Athens campus Sunday at the Student Involvement Fair, in collaboration with Heritage College Community Health Programs. We have planned a calendar of walk-in clinics on the Athens campus, which you can find here. Also on that page is information about how students can schedule a vaccine any weekday at Campus Care on the Athens campus, and information about how to schedule a vaccine anywhere else in Ohio and beyond.

The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective at preventing severe sickness, hospitalization, and death, including from the Delta variant. Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself, and the best way to protect our Bobcat community. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given full approval for the Pfizer vaccine. We are considering the implications of this and evaluating what it will mean for the OHIO community. For those who were waiting for full approval before getting the vaccine, it gives yet another vote of confidence in the safety and efficacy of this vaccine.

Let's get back to "even more" normal

It feels good to be back on campus with a full slate of students and activities. Even still, we all would love to do so without the need for masks, without the concern that our state’s hospitals are being pushed past their limits, and without the fear that we are now concentrating the spread of a dangerous virus to our youngest and most vulnerable community members.

Getting vaccinated is the number one thing you can do to help us get back to normal. Until the current surge is under control, layering prevention measures is critical to keeping everyone safe: vaccination, masking, distancing, handwashing, and avoiding large gatherings with unvaccinated individuals or that involve close contact. I have full confidence that the OHIO community will take the necessary steps to get us there.

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