Doubling down on safe and healthy behaviors – including twice-weekly testing – now for a brighter future
Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:
Public health is in a better place than it was during the winter peak, when hospitalizations, deaths and cases from the pandemic skyrocketed. Importantly, anyone 16 and older can now receive a vaccine in Ohio.
There is much reason for optimism. Yet, COVID-19 still poses a threat and we must not allow anything to slow our progress in the fight against the virus. At this moment in the pandemic, it’s important to redouble our efforts so that nothing disrupts our plans for a better summer and fall.
Today, I’m writing with an update on the state of the pandemic, to ask the university community to hold on until we have reached the finish line, and to announce and explain why we are going to resume twice a week testing for both on- and off-campus students in Columbus, starting on Monday, April 5.
The state of the pandemic
The positive developments – especially vaccinations – since the worst of winter are leading toward a path that we all want: a spring re-emergence of in-person activity, including our first in-person commencement since late 2019.
However, several COVID-19 variants are circulating that are more contagious and can cause more serious illness, even among younger people. As is the case nationally and internationally, these variants are trending toward becoming dominant among cases here at the university, including among Columbus campus students.
The identification of variants on campus was expected, based on activity seen elsewhere and because viruses routinely change through mutation. What can we do to respond? The key is to remain committed to our safe and healthy behaviors that we know will help keep the virus from spreading on campus and in our community. We cannot let our positivity rates, which at this point remain low, increase.
For us to progress toward a more normal spring, summer and fall, COVID-19 spread must remain low. We all want to go back to a more normal life, but to do so we need to remain diligent by wearing masks, physically distancing, avoiding large gatherings and getting vaccinated. Student testing is another critically important component.
What you can do to help
These conflicting developments may be confusing: Are we doing better or worse against the virus? While there are more reasons for optimism right now than at any time in the last year, we have to remain vigilant. Many at-risk Ohioans remain unprotected by the vaccine. There are ways for all of us to help as vaccinations continue:
Students: Get tested twice a week. Beginning Monday, April 5, Columbus campus students who live on-campus, attend in-person classes, visit campus for any reason or interact with other students and campus community members must schedule and complete two COVID-19 tests each week. Students can schedule their weekly appointments via MyChart. Instructions to schedule using MyChart can be found at go.osu.edu/MyChartInstructions. By increasing testing now, with cases still relatively low, we can prevent another rapid rise of cases. Ohio State’s on-site testing lab has significantly increased capacity this semester. Regional campus students remain eligible for weekly testing; that has not changed.
Everyone: Get vaccinated as soon as possible. You can sign up now on the Wexner Medical Center website, or one of the thousands of locations, big and small, across the state. Check back often for open slots – they are frequently updated. The quickest path back to normality relies on all of us getting vaccinated as soon as possible. Visit the Safe and Healthy Buckeyes website for more information about vaccination, including a link to the state’s search tool.
Everyone: Do not gather with large groups. We want students to take the opportunity to relax during this week’s instructional break, but please do so safely.
Everyone: Continue to wear masks properly, over your nose and mouth. Continue to maintain physical distance. Continue to wash your hands frequently.
The lessons we have learned since March 2020 tell us what is working. We know there was a case increase after the last two-day break, and we can’t afford to repeat that again. We also know increased testing frequency works. Earlier this month, we pushed the seven-day on-campus positivity average from 1.02% to 0.34% in under three weeks. We will continue testing twice a week for the next few weeks in order to suppress positive cases going into commencement. This is just the latest example of the Buckeye community adapting and responding to changing conditions during the last year.
There is a finish line, and though reaching it won’t be a straight line, we can get there with continued Safe and Healthy Buckeye behavior. By being proactive and careful now, just like we have all year, we are more likely to go back to a more normal college life – enjoying commencement with friends and family and, yes, cheering on the Buckeye football team at Ohio Stadium. We can do this – stay safe, and stay together – Together As Buckeyes.
Kristina M. Johnson, PhD