As Ohio University students, faculty and staff plan to return to the university’s Athens campus this fall, some within the OU and Athens communities have concerns about reopening plans.
On June 16, OU announced vaccinated individuals are no longer required to wear masks on campus, and physical distancing measures within classrooms were lowered from six feet to three feet, according to a previous Post report.
In addition to the changes to mask and physical distancing protocols, interim Executive Director for Housing and Residence Life Jneanne Hacker said visitors of students will be allowed in residence halls as long as they adhere to guidance from public health officials.
Dining halls will also offer more dining options for the Fall Semester, including dine-in experiences, a reopening of Nelson Court’s banquet room and outdoor seating on West Green, Gwyn Scott, associate vice president for auxiliaries, said.
Although these changes to OU’s fall reopening represent an attempt at a return to normalcy, some are unsure of how others will respond.
Meghan Trout, a graduate student at OU, said she is concerned with students complying with the university’s updated COVID-19 precautions and the rationale behind OU’s decisions.
“If there is data and proof that the percentage of students vaccinated is at the level of which is needed for herd immunity, then I think that no longer requiring masks is fine,” Trout said in an email. “However, we can't ensure that everyone is truthful in their vaccination status.”
Gillian Ice, special assistant to the president for public health operations, said 32% of anticipated Fall Semester students have reported receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, although a majority of students have not yet submitted OU’s Testing Pathway survey. Ice also said the university anticipates 50% of students will be vaccinated by the time classes begin in the fall, although the threshold to achieve herd immunity is much higher.
“The level at which we would reach herd immunity is estimated at 75-80%,” Ice said in an email. “With the rise of the delta variant, we are very concerned that a lower than ideal vaccination rate will be associated with significant spread on campus.”
Despite these concerns, Ice said professors will not be informed of which students are vaccinated or unvaccinated due to privacy concerns.
Like Trout, Ice is also concerned about students being responsible and following health protocols from the state of Ohio, as well as guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC.
“The state and CDC changed the guidance, many people, even those who are not vaccinated, decided to take off masks and no longer distance. I am worried about that happening on campus,” Ice said in an email. “But even if the protocols are fully followed, I think the bigger concern is what students do on their own time, on and off campus that will contribute to disease spread.”
Jack Pepper, an administrator at the Athens City-County Health Department, said he is hopeful people will continue to social distance though the mask mandate has been lifted. Pepper also said there are no more COVID-19 regulations being enforced in Athens, but that the health department will continue to educate Athens residents on the pandemic.
With the Fall Semester quickly approaching, Ice said she is hoping to see an increase in vaccinations, regardless of if herd immunity is achieved or not.
“We are doing everything that we can to promote vaccine and make vaccine readily available for students when they return to campus,” Ice said in an email. “I am not sure we can get to 80% but I am hoping that by the end of fall semester we will get close.”