COVID-19 Update: Spring Semester Mitigation Strategy
Dr. Emilio Carranco, Chief Medical Officer | January 6, 2022
Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students,
As we prepare for the spring semester, we find ourselves again facing challenges due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The Omicron variant is very contagious and spreading rapidly across the country. While Omicron appears to cause less severe illness, the massive number of infections is causing an increase in hospitalizations and straining the healthcare system. We are already seeing disruptions in business, services, and the education system due to absenteeism and this is likely to continue for several weeks. We anticipate COVID-19 transmission levels in Texas to remain high for most of January and begin to decrease late in January.
After assessing the COVID-19 situation and its potential impact on our campus community, the university will begin with remote teaching the first two weeks of the spring semester and return to face-to-face teaching on January 31st. I want to share important information to help you prepare for the spring semester.
Most Common Omicron Symptoms
While infection with Omicron can lead to severe illness and hospitalization, those who are vaccinated tend to have mild illness. The most common symptoms of Omicron infection include cough, runny/stuffy nose, sore throat, fatigue, and headache. Persons with these symptoms should test for COVID-19. If positive, you should isolate and report to Bobcat Trace.
Vaccination Important for Preventing Severe Illness
Vaccination and a booster are about 70-75% effective in preventing symptomatic disease and 85-90% effective in preventing hospitalization. Persons who have vaccinated, but not obtained a booster, still have significant protection against severe illness and hospitalization—but less protection against infection. The value of vaccination is clear. Most persons being hospitalized continue to be the unvaccinated. I strongly encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated.
New CDC Isolation/Quarantine Guidelines a Balancing Act
With new data on Omicron’s period of contagiousness and the effectiveness of vaccinations in preventing severe illness, it is time to modify our approach to COVID-19. The CDC’s new guidelines shorten isolation/quarantine periods to 5 days (period of highest infectiousness) and rely heavily on masking for another 5 days to prevent the spread of infection by persons who may still have low levels of contagiousness. The new guidelines attempt to balance the importance of preventing the spread of infection with the need to minimize disruption in essential services, business, and education. The university will follow the CDC COVID-19 Quarantine and Isolation Guidelines. Please familiarize yourself with the new guidelines so that you can take the appropriate actions in the event of an infection or exposure. Isolation begins since the start of symptoms or a positive test. Quarantine begins since the last exposure to a positive case. Persons exposed to COVID-19 who have been vaccinated and received a booster, and those who have had a COVID-19 infection within the last 90 days, do not have to quarantine but must wear a face mask when around others for 10 days.
Prevention Measures Protect the Vulnerable and Minimize Disruption
Vaccinated persons may not experience severe illness but can still spread the infection to those who are more vulnerable—the elderly, those with underlying medical problems and the unvaccinated. Uncontrolled spread of a highly contagious virus will lead to further increases in hospitalizations and disruption in our society. Taking steps to prevent infection, such as wearing a face mask and social distancing, still matters!
Texas State Strategy to Reduce Risk of Infection
Texas State has modified its COVID-19 mitigation strategy to address the current surge:
- Start classes remotely for two weeks and allow employees some flexibility in the workplace to slow the spread of the new variant, reduce risk of exposure for those that may be vulnerable, and allow the worst part of the COVID-19 surge to pass.
- Follow the new CDC COVID-19 Quarantine and Isolation Guidelines which shorten isolation and quarantine to 5 days and include either PCR or antigen testing.
- Use high-quality face masks (KN95 or surgical/procedure masks) for 5 or 10 days in accordance with the new CDC guidelines.
- While the university cannot mandate face masks, everyone is asked to wear a face mask indoors—regardless of vaccination status.
- Modify or defer large events or gatherings until after January 30th.
- Test for COVID-19 within 72 hours (3 days) prior to returning to our campuses, during the semester after high-risk activities, and whenever symptoms develop. For testing information, visit TXST Testing, Curative Testing, or TX Testing Sites.
- Continue to encourage vaccination and booster doses when eligible (5 months after second dose of Pfizer, 6 months after the second dose of Moderna, or 2 months after first dose of Johnson & Johnson).
Success Requires That We All Do Our Part
Vaccines, testing, isolation, and face masks are the tools that will help us manage COVID-19 more effectively and create a safer environment on campus. We all want a return to a more normal life–but we still have work to do. Increasing hospitalizations and more than 1,100 deaths daily due to COVID-19 are indications that this virus is still a serious threat. If we all follow the mitigation strategy outlined by the university, we have our best chance to return to face-to face instruction on January 31st and successfully complete the spring semester. We look forward to seeing you back on campus.
Dr. Emilio Carranco
Chief Medical Officer
Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs
Director, Student Health Center