Breakthrough COVID-19 cases are being seen around Ohio University’s campus among those who have been vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a breakthrough case as a fully vaccinated person becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus.
Gillian Ice, special assistant to the president for public health operations, said OU is tracking breakthrough cases and, currently, 36% of all COVID-19 cases have been breakthrough. OU announced in August that students are required to be vaccinated by Nov. 15.
Kaitlyn Blancha, a junior studying osteopathic medicine, said individuals receive a vaccine to help their immune system develop memory of a virus. A breakthrough case may develop after vaccination if an individual is exposed to the virus they are vaccinated against and, instead of completely fighting it off, they contract a mild form of the disease, she said.
“Nobody ever said that (vaccinations) were going to be 100% effective,” Blancha said. “That is not new science. … You see this all the time people get the flu vaccine, (and they) get the flu. This is not new.”
Of the nearly 10,000 students tested on OU’s Athens campus, there is a positivity rate of 2.5%, according to the COVID-19 dashboard. Ice said unvaccinated individuals are 3.8 times more likely to test positive compared to vaccinated individuals.
According to OU’s website, if a fully vaccinated OU student tests positive for COVID-19, they first must call OU’s COVID Operations Team, or complete a COVID-19 Incident Report. Students are expected to isolate and seek medical assistance if necessary. Unvaccinated individuals must follow the same procedure if they test positive.
Vaccinated individuals must also call COVID Operations or submit an incident report if exposed to the virus. Students must then schedule and complete an asymptomatic test through Vault Health five days after exposure, according to OU’s website. Isolation and quarantine are not required upon exposure for vaccinated students.
If symptomatic, the individual can provide a negative coronavirus test, making quarantine or isolation no longer required.
Taylor Linzinmeir, a senior studying journalism, experienced a breakthrough case. After noticing she had a few COVID-19 symptoms, Linzinmeir decided getting tested for COVID-19 was the appropriate course of action.
After Linzinmeir tested positive, she called the COVID-19 operations hotline to alert them she had taken a test, and it came back positive.
“I didn’t really know what to do, and they walked me through the whole process,” Linzinmeir said. “I got a caseworker … and she contacted me every couple of days and asked if my symptoms had changed.”
Carly Leatherwood, a university spokesperson, said the COVID-19 campus liaisons work hard in many ways to directly support and care for individuals, as well as protect others in the community by ensuring that individuals can manage both quarantine or isolation safely and successfully.
When students who have breakthrough COVID-19 cases are required to isolate, there are a couple of options depending on their current living situations.
Students are able to return home to their permanent address if they are on campus, but the university encourages students to consider the ramifications of travel and potentially exposing those they come in contact with — including their family members — when returning home.
“I called my mom … she didn't want me to be here alone. She told me I could come home, so I quarantined at my parents’ house for the duration of my quarantine period,” Linzinmeir said.
In contrast, residential students who are unable to return home and choose to isolate on campus, regardless of vaccination status, must move into OU’s isolation residence halls.
True House, located on South Green, is for students who need to isolate after testing positive, vaccinated or unvaccinated. Dougan House, also located on South Green, is the quarantine dorm for students who come into close contact with a positive individual and are unvaccinated.
During isolation or quarantine, students are able to order meals from OU’s Culinary Services that are delivered to their temporary residence hall, or students may choose to have food delivered from other local food delivery services.
Leatherwood said academic accommodations will be made for students who are in isolation or quarantine.