17:01 PM

Ohio State hosts COVID town hall before spring semester

President Johnson encourages booster shots, continued vigilance

Leaders at The Ohio State University remain committed to an in-person learning experience for spring semester as they monitor the latest surge of COVID-19 cases fueled by the Omicron variant.

During a virtual town hall to discuss the university’s plans for the semester and to answer questions from the Ohio State community, President Kristina M. Johnson reiterated the health and safety of students, faculty and staff is the university’s No. 1 priority. Johnson said easy access to vaccines, booster shots, well-fitting masks and testing would allow for in-person instruction.

“Everything you did last fall is now making it possible for us to keep our campuses open and continue in-person instruction. We’ve proven that we can be successful – just look at our 92.5% vaccination rate,” she said. “It’s now up to each of us to continue practicing the same vigilance we’ve exercised throughout the entire pandemic.”

Johnson said the university will continue to monitor the campus and community positivity rate, the number of people in quarantine or isolation, and the virus’s impact on the health care system and adapt as needed.

Some changes are already underway. The university announced a detailed return-to-campus plan earlier this week that includes a requirement for students to test before they return to on-campus housing, weekly testing requirements for some student groups and reduced seating in university dining areas.

“We very much know, believe in and endorse the importance of the residential in-person experience that so many students and their families want and deserve,” said Senior Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers. “Fortunately, given our extraordinary vaccination rate and the university’s ongoing efforts to build in health and safety protocols, we aren’t going all the way back to the beginning, but we will need to put some additional levels of precaution in place.”

In addition to the changes and precautions, university leaders encouraged flexibility.

“I urge all of our instructors to work with students to determine reasonable steps to help them continue their coursework if they’re impacted by COVID-19,” Executive Vice President and Provost Melissa L. Gilliam said.

She said the same efforts should apply to instructors as well, encouraging schools and departments to develop contingency plans in the event that faculty or teaching assistants become sick. Gilliam said TAs will be funded through the semester even if they miss time due to illness or quarantine.

There is reason for optimism. Andrew Thomas, interim co-leader and chief clinical officer at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, said the impact of the Omicron variant in central Ohio appears to match other cities around the world. While the virus spreads quickly and appears to be highly contagious, the symptoms are generally mild for vaccinated individuals. Ohio continues to see fewer patients in intensive care than in previous waves.

Thomas, who is vaccinated and received a booster shot, said he tested positive for COVID-19 this week. He noted his symptoms are mild and he is able to continue working while staying isolated at home, and highlighted how vaccines have helped dramatically change the direction of the pandemic. “As I started to reflect a little bit more, frankly, I was really grateful that scientists developed the vaccine. Thankful I had a medical center that had delivered the vaccine to me and thankful the vaccine was keeping me from having a more serious case,” he said. “I don’t have pneumonia. I’m not sick in the hospital and I don’t know if I could have said that 18 months ago or a little over 12 months ago, before the vaccine was out.”

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