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OU to continue to adhere to CDC masking, testing guidelines

As Athens County COVID-19 cases rise and fall, Ohio University students will be expected to comply with changes in the university masking policy. 

Despite the disbandment of OU’s COVID Operations following the 2022 Spring Semester, the COVID-19 virus will still influence student life. As cases rise and fall, students will be expected to follow the university’s masking and testing policies throughout the Fall Semester.

On July 29, OU announced masking would be required in all indoor spaces on campus beginning Aug. 1, which has since been reduced as masks are now only recommended.

The announcement was made after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that Athens County had risen to the status of “high” in the CDC’s community spread levels.

The university’s masking policy directly corresponds with CDC recommendations and community levels. 

Community levels are based on three criteria — number of cases per 100,000, average number of hospital admissions for COVID-19 and average number of staffed inpatient beds occupied by patients with COVID-19, said James Gaskell, the Athens City-County Health commissioner. 

According to the university’s most recent protocols, expectations for masking will abide by the following criteria:

High: Masks are required during scheduled class and class-related activities in classrooms, laboratories, studios, clinical settings, other learning spaces and the Child Development Center.

Medium: Masks are recommended during scheduled class and class-related activities in classrooms, laboratories, studios, clinical settings, other learning spaces and the Child Development Center.

Low: Masks are optional on campus.

Community spread levels also correspond with colors. “High” is red, “medium” is yellow and “low” is green.

For the first week of classes, Athens County is considered to be at a medium level, so masks are recommended but not required in classroom settings.

In accordance with CDC community spread levels, there is a possibility the community spread levels will change weekly, thus changing the mask policy in effect. Gillian Ice, special assistant to the president for public health operations, said she does not foresee masks being consistently required throughout the Fall Semester.

“I really want to emphasize with people this is temporary,” Ice said. “Some people are really upset, they're losing their minds over the whole thing. This is temporary. We are not saying (wear masks) the whole year. We're not even saying the whole semester, just until we come out of red.”

Announcements for changes in mask policy will be made on Fridays. Students will receive direct contact from the university when the mask advisory changes. 

Gaskell said he hopes the CDC’s Athens County status does not change weekly because it risks undermining people’s trust in the agency.

If indeed that happens, that's going to cause a problem for us because it's very difficult for people to manage these rapid changes from having the mask indoors to not having a mask indoors,” Gaskell said. “I think that would create a very awkward situation and the public would begin to lose confidence, I think, in the CDC and the local health district if we change frequently.”

Ice said it is a possibility the masking policy will change from week to week, but it would be unlikely for it to change quickly.

Testing sites are no longer available on campus; however, students are expected to self-test if they experience COVID-19 symptoms or believe they have been exposed to the virus, regardless of vaccination status. Students will be able to use self-test kits available on campus. If positive, students are asked to report the information to the Athens City-County Health Department, or ACCHD.

After testing positive, students are asked to quarantine at home or an off-campus location due to extremely limited isolation housing, Carly Leatherwood, former university spokesperson and current interim chief of staff, said. 

A breakdown of students’ “next steps” after testing positive, being exposed or experiencing symptoms and isolation timelines can be found in OU’s COVID-19 protocol.

Although not all positive cases will be reported to the university or the ACCHD, community levels will still be somewhat accurate because cases will be monitored through wastewater testing, which can predict where and when future cases will occur, Ice said. 

Despite the county’s attitude toward COVID-19 nearing endemic-type management, Ice said students should still expect to acknowledge the virus daily.

“Unfortunately, I think it's still going to play a relatively significant role for a while,” Ice said. “It's still very present and I think we're going to have difficulty because a lot of our mitigation measures are gone.”

@AddieHedges

ah766719@ohio.edu


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