Ohio University has shifted its COVID-19 quarantine and isolation requirements to more accurately reflect recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC.
The new protocols include a five-day quarantine period for any students who test positive in university housing regardless of vaccination status, as opposed to the previous 10-day quarantine requirement, Gillian Ice, special assistant to the president for public health operations, said.
James Gaskell, health commissioner at the Athens City-County Health Department, said the CDC changed its isolation guidelines based on data that shows the time of contagiousness stretches from two days before symptoms to three days after symptoms, creating a five-day isolation window. Additionally, Gaskell said the omicron variant, in particular, has a shorter period in which an infected person is contagious compared to the previous alpha and delta variants, which bodes well for OU’s new isolation protocol.
Gaskell said he believes OU’s changes will be successful in the Spring Semester, as they are well-researched and focus on minimizing the time students spend isolated.
“They're here to go to class and get educated, not here to be isolated and quarantined for long periods of time,” Gaskell said. “I think this is a pretty solid plan.”
Though Athens County and OU have both seen a spike in cases following the return of potentially infected students to the Athens campus, Gaskell said the worst of the spike is over.
“We sort of absorbed (the spike) already, I think, as the students have come in,” Gaskell said. “We should get better numbers going forward and, as a matter of fact, we have.”
Though OU experienced a higher positivity rate of 10% to 15% upon students arriving back on campus, Ice said the new quarantine period will create a faster turnover rate in quarantine and isolation dorms, allowing the dorms to keep up with the increased spread of the virus. She added the decreased isolation period has led to more students opting to use isolation and quarantine housing than going home and potentially infecting their families.
However, in the case that the isolation and quarantine dorms do fill up, Ice said the university would have to explore other options such as isolating in their own dorms or going home.
Cliff Cooke, a sophomore studying finance and analytics, was recently sent to Dougan House, a designated campus isolation dorm. He said he tested positive from the weekly asymptomatic testing.
Cooke said he took his test Jan. 11 and got his results back Jan. 13. He was notified by OU Housing and Residence Life on Friday morning that he had to move into the isolation dorms.
Within the isolation dorms, students who have tested positive are not permitted to leave the building, and when leaving their rooms, they are instructed to wear face coverings at all times and not linger in the halls, Cooke said. Though there were many other people isolated within the dorm, Cooke said they were instructed to not gather with any other students in isolation.
The isolation dorm rooms are cleaned for students upon arrival and well-kept when they are vacant, Cooke added.
Cooke said he likes the transition to the shorter quarantine period. He said he appreciated not having to miss as many classes as he would have with the previous isolation protocols.
Despite his appreciation for the new protocols, Cooke said there were still complications in his isolation process. Though Cooke was contacted by Housing and Residence Life after testing positive, he said he was never contacted by OU COVID Operations throughout the entire process.
Cooke said despite his multiple unread emails and voicemails to COVID Operations about his dismissal from isolation, he was never contacted about his eligibility to return to his dorm.
“Eventually, I emailed Gillian Ice, and she responded in like five minutes, and that’s what got me out,” Cooke said. “That could be a big problem if they aren’t able to keep up with all the new people who test positive … They could get stuck in there.”
Ultimately, Ice said the high vaccination rate on campus along with newly implemented weekly testing for those living in dorms or other university housing will aid in protecting students from COVID-19 and keeping them out of quarantine in the first place.
“The vaccination rates still look great, and this will help us get disease under control,” Ice said. “It’ll help protect people from severe disease (and) hospitalizations.”