Cases on Campus Remain Low
The University Health Center logged 12 new cases of COVID-19 on the campus during the week ending Nov. 25 (11 students, 1 employee). In the week ending Dec. 2, there were 13 cases on campus (10 students, 2 employees and 1 contractor).
All have only mild symptoms and no one required hospitalization, said Patricia Ruiz, director of the University Health Center.
“Our high vaccination rates – 94% of employees and 93% of students – are helping reduce the risk for everyone,” Ruiz said. “All of us have a role to play in keeping the campus safe. It’s important to pay attention to any symptoms and report them on Hawk Check, even if they’re mild. Don’t assume that you’ve got allergies or a cold.”
Ruiz reminds the campus community to follow our masking policy and get tested weekly if you’re unvaccinated.
She also recommends that vaccinated members of the campus community talk with their health-care provider about getting a booster shot. Essex County will vaccinate any Montclair State University employee or student, regardless of where they live. The vaccination site at the former Kmart in West Orange is close to campus, and it’s easy to book an appointment online or by phone. Visit the county’s COVID website to make an appointment or learn more.
Q. of the Week: Should I Be Worried About the Omicron Variant?
As you’ve heard, Omicron, named for the Greek letter, is a new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. It was recently identified by the World Health Organization as a concern, and as of Thursday, it had been detected in five states, including New York.
The new variant caught the attention of scientists and health officials worldwide because of its high number of mutations, including 30 on the spike protein, which might enable it to spread more easily or to evade some of the protection conferred by vaccines.
Our own experts, including Biology Professor Sandra Adams and Public Health Professor Stephanie Silvera, explain further why the Omicron variant is causing concern and what we should be doing to protect ourselves.
Omicron has “more than double the number of spike protein mutations than the Delta variant,” says Adams. “The antibodies produced by the vaccines target the spike protein. These antibodies bind to the spike protein and block the virus from entering cells. Mutations can change the structure of the spike protein and, when this happens, reduce the effectiveness of the antibodies to neutralize the virus.”
However, Adams says, “vaccines should continue to offer some protection from severe illness against Omicron. Our immune response provides different layers of protection. Even if antibodies are not as effective as the first line of defense, immunological memory, which includes the T-cell (cytotoxic) response activated following vaccination, should continue to offer some protection and destroy virus-infected cells.”
Adams and Silvera agree that there is no reason to panic and it is too early to understand just how problematic the variant might be. It could likely be weeks before researchers are able to provide more definitive information.
Meanwhile, they advise that continuing to practice public health safety measures such as mask wearing, social distancing, proper hand-washing and isolating if you have the virus, are important.
“Regardless of the variant, the public health protocols work,” says Silvera, who is also an epidemiologist and who has been quoted nearly 300 times on COVID-19 in state and national media. “We have the tools we need to deal with variants. Also, now is a good time to get a booster if you’re eligible and to get vaccinated, if you haven’t already.”
Our experts point out that our campus community benefits from high vaccination rates, and they continue to remind all Red Hawks to follow our safety measures, including masking up indoors or in crowded outdoor spaces, checking symptoms and reporting them on Hawk Check, staying home if you’re sick and isolating if you test positive for COVID-19.
“The protocols we have put in place have done a remarkably good job at keeping us safe. This is not the time to let down our guard,” Silvera says, reminding us to continue to pay attention to the news and follow the rules. “We have to remember that even if we don’t feel sick, we can carry it to someone in our family who could get sick.”
Additionally, Silvera urges weighing the safety risks of socializing or eating indoors and air travel as coronavirus infections again rise in New Jersey.
Add Testing to Your Holiday To-Do List
One of the best ways to keep yourself and your loved ones safe is to get tested, says University Health Center Director Patricia Ruiz, who recommends getting a PCR test before and after traveling or gathering with people outside your immediate household.
“Vaccinated people can be infected and not know it, and they could be able to spread the virus to others – even those who are also vaccinated,” says Ruiz. “All employees and students can get tested for free on campus.”
The University’s free COVID testing center in Webster Hall has convenient testing hours, including Sundays and evenings. No appointment is necessary, but please create a free account with our lab, Visit Healthcare, before you come, and bring your Montclair State ID, insurance card and smartphone with you to the testing center. And remember, there’s never any cost to you. If you are insured, your health insurance will cover it. If you are uninsured, federal pandemic relief funding obtained by the University covers the cost.
For more holiday travel tips, take a look at the New Jersey Department of Health’s COVID-19 traveler’s health website for the latest guidance. Enjoy the time with friends and family, and please, stay safe out there!
Get Your Flu Shot
Help keep yourself, your family, your co-workers and our students safe from influenza by getting vaccinated. Most doctor’s offices and pharmacies are offering them, and most health insurance plans cover the full cost. Enter your zip code in the CDC’s Flu Shot Finder for a list of locations near you. Health experts say do it soon, so that you’ve got time to build immunity before holiday travel and family gatherings.
Remember to Hawk Check!
It’s important to complete the Hawk Check self-screening application consistently. Complete Hawk Check every day, Monday through Friday, and do it on any weekends or holidays on which you plan to come to campus. If you live on campus, do it every day. If Hawk Check gives you the thumbs up, come to campus. If it tells you not to come, then please stay home and wait for a phone call from Occupational Health.
Why? Hawk Check is one of the most important ways that our health-care providers find out about potential cases. Reporting risks and symptoms accurately – and promptly – gives them a head start on helping keep the virus under control. Many thanks to thousands of Red Hawks who are doing Hawk Check every day.
Tips for Instructors
The University has a long tradition of supporting students – and their instructors – when illness or other life events cause a student to have unanticipated absences from courses. The Office for Faculty Advancement has prepared a detailed, helpful summary for what instructors can do, and what they can expect from the institution, when students say they cannot come to class due to COVID-19 or other reasons. Please take a look.
For More Information
For the most up-to-date information about Montclair State’s recovery from the pandemic, please visit the University’s COVID-19 information website, or send an email to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for reading this edition of the Weekly COVID Newsletter, a production of the Office of University Communications and Marketing. Comments and suggestions may be sent to Vice President Joseph Brennan, email@example.com.