Omicron: How to Protect our SOU Community

Image credit Student Health and Wellness Center

Covid-19. A topic we’re all used to hearing about, and probably all tired of discussing. However, with the recent spread of the Omicron variant, it’s important now more than ever to continue to keep ourselves and others safe and protected. 

Omicron is a variant of the original SARS-CoV-2 virus. Like many may think, it is not an entirely new virus and spreads in the same way as SARS-CoV-2 through respiratory droplets from our noses and mouths. In close range and indoors with little ventilation, these virus droplets can stay in the air for quite a while. However, According to NPR, Omicron has a shorter incubation time, meaning that infected people can spread it at a faster rate than with previous variants. Compared to the previous Delta variant, Omicron’s increased spike mutations “allow it to infect human cells more efficiently than previous variants could, leaving many more people again vulnerable”. While more transmissible, the severity of symptoms are looking less intense, shifting from “pneumonia-like symptoms” to congestion and head cold symptoms

Making sure you take the right precautions to remain protected is the most important step to take during this time. The CDC recommends wearing a mask in public indoor settings or areas of high transmission. Masks must have two or more layers of fabric, cover your nose, mouth, and chin, and fit snugly to your face without any gaps. This helps to limit the number of respiratory particles that come from our noses and mouths, lessening the risk of transmission. The CDC advises N95 or KN95 masks for greater protection. Surgical and cloth masks are also acceptable, but it is encouraged to double up on these as they are less reliable as a barrier for limiting respiratory droplets.

SOU’s mask policy follows the guidelines of the CDC. Below is an updated list of the conditions on campus that require an approved mask:

  • All indoor spaces and university activities, on or off-campus, including but not limited to: 
    • All indoor spaces 
    • Any outdoor space if the individuals cannot or do not consistently maintain at least six feet of distance from individuals not in their household. 
  • Any activity, indoor or outdoor, where the University President or vice president determines that the safety and operational needs of the activity favor use of a face covering 
  • Any activity or area on campus that is requiring the use of a face covering as a reasonable accommodation. 
  • Any spaces or university activities where masks are expressly required by law, regulation, executive order, or any other mandate with the full force and effect of law.

Along with these guidelines, SOU is requiring that face masks be worn with other measures of protection including “physical distancing, hygiene etiquette, and proper hand washing”.

The requirement and recommendations regarding vaccinations remain the same for the Omicron variant as for SARS-CoV-2. At this time, making sure you are fully vaccinated is even more essential to remaining safe. The CDC confirms that currently, “vaccines remain the best public health measure to protect people from COVID-19, slow transmission, and reduce the likelihood of new variants emerging” all while preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death. The CDC is also recommending that people ages 16+ follow up their Covid vaccination series with a booster shot, available 5 months after their second dose of Pfizer-BioNTec, 6 months for Moderna, and 2 months for Johnson and Johnson. 

Currently, 93% of on-campus students are vaccinated, along with 96% of our on-campus employees. A mandatory survey given by the Student Health and Wellness Center asks students to attest, file an exemption, or defer their vaccination status. A registration hold is applied to students who do not do the prior until their status is received and approved by the SHWC. 

Visit Jackson County Health and Human Services for booster shot availability, locations, and clinics. Students and faculty, make sure to also keep an eye out for SHWC emails regarding free on-campus booster clinics.

If you have been exposed or are showing symptoms of Covid, please call the Student Health and Wellness Center at 541-552-6136 to check your testing eligibility and to schedule a test appointment. Rapid tests are widely available to students. Make sure to refer to SOU’s flowchart for test eligibility, exposures, and positive cases. 

A list of alternative testing sites in Ashland can be found here.

Visit SOU’s ‘Covid-19 and SOU’ page for our vaccination and mask policies, recent exposures around campus, FAQs, and more. 

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