Public health update: June 8, 2021
The following message was shared with the Ohio University community.
Dear OHIO community members,
I hope you are enjoying the slower pace of summer semester, along with the encouraging trends in pandemic-related statistics. With more people getting vaccinated and spending time outdoors, COVID-19 case rates in Ohio and the nation continue to decline. Most counties with an OHIO campus are in the low-to-moderate transmission range, giving us all confidence in living a more normal life. Belmont (substantial transmission) and Lawrence (high transmission) counties continue to experience relatively high transmission.
One thing that hasn’t slowed down is the pace of change that comes with COVID-19: just as we get used to public health guidance, it changes again. Last Tuesday, June 1, Ohio University announced new, relaxed public health protocols in anticipation of Gov. DeWine lifting all state public health protocols on the next day. Then, on Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced revisions to public health guidance for Institutions of Higher Education. We are reviewing that information and working to modify OHIO protocols to be consistent with CDC guidance.
I’m pleased to announce one big change that is effective immediately: fully vaccinated OHIO community members no longer need to participate in asymptomatic testing through the Testing Pathway Program. If you have already selected the Vaccination Pathway, you don’t need to do anything (except cancel appointments you have already scheduled). You also are welcome to continue testing if it gives you peace of mind. If you have not yet selected a pathway, I hope this perk encourages you to get vaccinated and to register that vaccine through the Pathway Program.
Stay tuned, as we will communicate additional changes in guidance as soon as possible.
Updated protocols at OHIO
As announced last week, we have relaxed some public health measures on OHIO campuses. I know this comes as a relief to many. These changes were based on shifts in general guidance from the CDC and the state, paired with local public health data.
Outdoors, we are no longer requiring face coverings or physical distancing, regardless of vaccination status. We do strongly encourage both precautions for unvaccinated individuals, as does the CDC.
Indoors, we are still requiring masks and physical distancing on OHIO campuses or while using University transportation, regardless of vaccination status. You don’t have to wear a mask when you are in your own residence hall room and maintaining social distancing, when you are dining on campus, or when you are working alone in a lab or office.
There is no capacity limit on indoor or outdoor gatherings beyond normal University guidelines if distancing protocols are met indoors.
We are currently continuing with masks and distancing indoors because we know that virus transmission most often occurs indoors. Additionally, our campuses include a high degree of interaction among individuals who come from many different places, and an outbreak can propagate quickly with possible spillover to local communities. We are continuing with masks and distancing indoors until we have a better understanding of campus vaccination rates and case trends for fall.
Help us calculate vaccination rates
The top question we are getting right now is “What is the campus vaccination rate?” Unfortunately, we can’t yet calculate the rate because we have not heard from enough students, faculty, and staff regarding their vaccination status to provide an accurate number.
OHIO is not requiring vaccination against COVID-19, but strongly encourages it. Students, faculty, and staff who are fully vaccinated do not have to participate in asymptomatic testing. Those who are not vaccinated will need to test weekly. Please choose your path through our COVID-19 Testing Pathway Program. If you are fully vaccinated, you do still need to select your path (those who do not select a path will automatically be required to test weekly).
Until a greater number of students, faculty, and staff select their testing pathway based on vaccination status, we will not be able to calculate vaccination rates. We all want to know the answer to the vaccination question: Help us get that answer quickly by selecting your pathway now.
Building vaccine confidence one person at a time
When enough of our campus community is fully vaccinated, we expect to be able to drop masking and physical distancing even indoors. Along the way, we may also be able to decrease the frequency of asymptomatic testing. How long it takes to get there is up to each of us.
We know that almost 41 percent of Ohioans are fully vaccinated, as well as 41 percent of Athens County residents. (Check vaccination rates for any Ohio county here.) That leaves a lot of unvaccinated individuals, who could have many different reasons for not yet taking this step.
Last week, the Athens City-County Health Department offered a vaccine clinic on campus for students, faculty, and staff. We had the opportunity to talk with individuals about their thoughts on getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Many were quite candid about their fears and reluctance, and about why they ultimately decided to get the vaccine. In nearly every case, a trusted person in their life had explained how important it is. For some that person was a coach, for others it was a family member or colleague who provided the encouragement and information that helped them make this important decision.
Each of us can help build vaccine confidence by listening to people’s concerns and providing helpful information and support. Reaching community immunity will happen one vaccination at a time. Right now, one of the best ways to show you care for your people (and to help next school year be amazing) is to check in with your friends, colleagues, and other OHIO community members to see how they’re feeling about the vaccine. Listening to concerns, sharing our own experiences, and answering questions is one of the best ways we can look out for one another right now.
Dr. Gillian Ice
Special Assistant to the President for Public Health Operations