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Evidence says wear masks, physically distance, wash hands and practice self-care

Ohio State experts offer safety and well-being guidance for return to campus

The Ohio State University is starting autumn semester and reminding students, faculty and staff that the universal use of face masks and physical distancing will be essential to staying open in the fall.

“This is a moment in which if we don’t follow the guidelines, we’re going to go home. And that’s not what anybody wants,” said Amy Fairchild, dean of the College of Public Health.

Ohio State News asked Fairchild and University Chief Wellness Officer Bernadette Melnyk, chair and vice chair, respectively, of the Safe Campus and Scientific Advisory Subgroup of the COVID-19 Transition Task Force, to share how return-to-campus guidelines were established and the importance of thinking in terms of personal – and community – health. (See videos below.)

Tending to our physical and mental health may feel as challenging now as ever, but Melnyk noted that making the effort to take good self-care will help us feel better and make us less susceptible to illnesses of all kinds.

“We will boost our immune systems and feel better physically and mentally if we get a little physical activity in every day, if we eat healthy, if we sleep seven hours a night and we practice stress reduction,” said Melnyk, also vice president for health promotion and dean of the College of Nursing.

Both Fairchild and Melnyk also were unambiguous about the importance of wearing face masks.

“Do your part to prevent spread of the infection. We must wear masks. We must physically distance and, by all means, if you are sick, please stay home and call your primary care provider,” Melnyk said.

This isn’t just advice passed down through the years or popular wisdom, Fairchild noted. The subgroup developed an extensive list of recommendations for a safe return to full operations after completing a rigorous review of existing and new research associated with infectious disease containment.

“Where we encountered the limits of the evidence, we relied on the expertise of a really wide array of faculty from across the university,” Fairchild said.

The faculty experts in the subgroup represented a range of disciplines that included infectious diseases, virology, facilities management, epidemiology, public health, law, medical ethics, nursing and mental health and well-being.

And that is how the task force arrived at a face mask requirement: “We’re really confident masks work to curtail community transmission,” Fairchild said. “I pick that as a particular example because it underscores part of our process – which was to look at the evidence as it came in. And that’s something we’re continuing to do.”

Hearing that physical distancing must continue may cause some in the university community to become more anxious than they already are about the pandemic itself and the stresses of working from home or in an essential position on a campus.

Melnyk encourages maintaining social connections with friends and family through safe means, such as social media or phone conversations, as these relationships are necessary for our well-being.

“Take frequent recovery breaks during the day,” she said. “People are really Zoom fatigued with ‘Hollywood Squares’ right now, but aside from the meetings, it’s still important to reach out on a daily or every-other-day basis to a good friend, a family member, to have that social connection.”

Everyone’s participation in public health precautions while on campus – masks, physical distancing and proper hand hygiene – is the foundation for protecting other people, even if we feel fine, Fairchild said.

“You can feel fine but you can be a risk to other people. The things I do when I’m feeling well are going to be the things that affect other people,” she said. “In order to have a face-to-face – even a covered face-to-face – on-campus experience, we need to keep everybody as safe as possible.”

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