Case Western Reserve University’s campus is bustling once again, as most students have returned to in-person courses and campus offices are returning to pre-pandemic operations.
But even after nearly 18 months and 366 million vaccine doses administered in the U.S., several familiar pandemic features remain. When on campus, people must wear masks indoors (unless alone in a campus workspace or residence hall with roommates) and outdoors if they cannot stay at least 6 feet away from one another. Faculty, staff, and students must participate in three consecutive weeks of baseline entry testing for COVID-19, with final tests required to be submitted by Friday, Sept. 10.
These protocols continue even though 99% of the Case Western Reserve community has complied with the vaccine verification process. Why? The COVID-19 Delta variant is causing breakthrough cases even among fully vaccinated individuals around the country, including among our own students, faculty and staff.
We checked in with Megan Koeth, executive director of the Department of Resiliency, to see what members of the campus community should keep in mind as we start this semester. Koeth has been instrumental in implementing COVID-19 protocols at Case Western Reserve throughout the pandemic; in April she was among two staff that then-Interim President Scott Cowen recognized as a COVID Champion.
“We’re so excited to have everyone back—and extremely grateful to those individuals who remained here to continue on-campus operations since March of 2020,” Koeth said. “But we have to balance that excitement with precaution. We aren’t yet back to normal, and we need everyone to take care of each other.”
See what five things Koeth said members of the community should do to improve their chances of staying healthy this semester.
1. The pandemic isn’t over.
We’re an extremely highly vaccinated population [at Case Western Reserve], so we can be back to regular density in places. But people need to remember we’re not out of the woods yet. To keep everybody safe on campus, we have to be smart in how we interact with each other.
2. Stay home when you’re sick.
Some of the symptoms—especially with Delta—can feel similar to allergies for a vaccinated person. But even if you’re vaccinated, you’re still able to catch and spread the virus, especially in those initial days of infection. It’s really important for people to actually stay home when they’re sick.
3. Keep practicing proper precautions, such as wearing a mask.
It may be annoying to wear your mask at your desk all day long, but that’s going to lower your risk of exposure dramatically if someone near you ends up being positive. Good mask-wearing is extremely important because that can make a difference in knowing whether you’re exposed or not.
4. Washing your hands is important.
[The importance of] hand hygiene hasn’t gone away. The “theater hygiene” of cleaning everything you touch has stopped, as we now know that it’s not necessary. But washing your hands and using hand sanitizer is still incredibly important.
5. The university continues to work with experts.
We’re working with experts in infection control and prevention among our faculty, within our region, and elsewhere in the country [to inform our protocols], and they who also have connections with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We’re working with them—and will continue to work with them and other experts—to make sure that all the decisions we make are in line with what the science shows.