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Weekly public health update: March 9, 2021

Body of Message

Dear OHIO community members,
Today is the anniversary of the first recorded case of COVID-19 in Ohio. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the day OHIO announced a shift to virtual classes for the remainder of the semester. Since then, we have all experienced disruptions and loss; for many of us it's been profound loss. I recognize the challenges we’ve all faced and send a special message of support to those who have lost loved ones. I also want to thank all who have worked on the front lines – including many of our students, faculty, and staff – and all who have made sacrifices to keep themselves and others safe.  

I am happy to report that cases have declined dramatically from our peak in early February to a current low. Our positivity rate has been below one percent in Athens for the last week, and we’ve continued to have exceptionally low case rates on our regional campuses. Additionally, we have had only one positive in the residence halls in the last seven days. Cases continue to decline across the state.
Governor sets target for case counts

Given the state case trends and increase in vaccination, the governor announced that he will lift all public health orders if the state reaches a level of 50 cases per 100,000 people for two weeks. To put that in perspective, Ohio was at 731 cases per 100,000 on Dec. 3, 2020, 445 per 100,000 on Feb. 3, 2021, and 179 per 100,000 last week. The last time we met this metric in the state was on June 17, 2020.

The governor emphasized that wearing masks and getting vaccinated are the biggest factors in driving these numbers down. These are the actions we all can take that will help meet this goal. The same holds true for campus: we must keep the rates low by continued vigilance.  
Vaccine interest survey: OHIO interest is clear

Thanks to the many of you who completed our vaccine interest survey; the survey is ongoing, but I’d like to share some preliminary results.

With more than 7,000 responses so far, we know that an overwhelming majority of students, faculty, and staff want the vaccine: 87 percent would take the vaccine if offered. This is a much higher rate of interest than shown in national surveys. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only approximately half of U.S. adults surveyed intended to receive the vaccine as of December, though intent had increased from 39.4 percent in September.

Among respondents to our survey, four percent have already received the vaccine, four percent are still deciding, and only five percent reported that they would not accept the vaccine. Interest is strong across students (86 percent), faculty (92 percent), and staff (88 percent). The top reason provided for wanting the vaccine was to stop the spread of COVID-19. This is encouraging news that demonstrates how informed our community is and how committed we are to ending the pandemic.

Those who do not want the vaccine or who were undecided – only nine percent of respondents – listed safety as their top concern. The most mentioned uncertainties were fertility and long-term effects of the vaccine.  

If you are still on the fence, this fact check from the Mayo Clinic Health System is one of many examples of reliable information available about the safety of these vaccines. Each of us can use our access to high-quality information to help educate ourselves and others about the proven safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines, and we can demonstrate our confidence in the vaccines by electing to receive one when it’s offered.

Ending the pandemic will require high and equitable vaccination coverage among all populations, so public health officials will work to dispel myths about COVID-19 vaccines and to demonstrate the immense benefits.
Vaccine registry: please add your name

In addition to our vaccine interest survey, we are now offering a confidential voluntary vaccine registry for OHIO community members. Knowing what proportion of our University community is fully vaccinated is vital in considering when and how to resume normal University operations. Therefore, we are asking students, faculty, and staff to voluntarily provide information about their vaccination status. Participating in this voluntary vaccination registry is one thing you can do to help us understand how close we are to achieving herd immunity.
Ohio vaccine availability continues to increase

Gov. DeWine made big announcements this week regarding vaccine availability for Ohioans with the launch of Phases 1D and 2B. Those with Type 2 diabetes or end-stage renal disease, and those age 50 and older, can now schedule their vaccines. The state has launched a new online tool to help Ohioans determine vaccine eligibility, find providers, book appointments, and receive updates.

Last week the governor announced a network of 15 state-sponsored mass vaccination clinics around the state, including a mobile unit from the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Community Health Programs. We will continue to update you as we hear about vaccination opportunities that might affect you.
Protecting the vulnerable among us

It has now been a year of pandemic living and we have all wondered if it would ever end. COVID-19 has affected all of us, particularly people of color, people with lower incomes, and women. It astounds me that we’ve lost 2.59 million people across the world. As we wait together for our vaccines, we must hold true to the public health measures that we know restrict the virus and will protect the most vulnerable among us. Though it's hard to stay the course when the road has been so long, it is important that we do so. We are part of a global network of individuals and communities who are experiencing these challenges and losses together. As we continue to collaborate in unprecedented ways, we will bring this pandemic to an end.  
Gillian Ice
Dr. Gillian Ice
Special Assistant to the President for Public Health Operations