Wayne State’s Campus Health Committee hosted a virtual town hall on Thursday on COVID-19 questions submitted by the campus community.
Panelists gave updates about potential campus COVID-19 guidelines for the fall semester and what tools are being used to determine them.
A recent update in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention masking recommendations for fully vaccinated individuals could lead to the revision of WSU’s mask guidelines, said College of Nursing Dean Laurie Lauzon Clabo.
“We are in an area of moderate, not… substantial or high, transmission, but the Campus Health Committee monitors that data on a daily basis, and we will make changes to our policy that are consistent with conditions on the ground as well CDC changing requirements,” Clabo said.
The panel also discussed the ability of fully vaccinated individuals to carry the COVID-19 virus. College of Nursing Associate Dean of Academic and Clinical Affairs Ramona Benkert said this was not expected, but emerging research indicates it is possible.
“There was a recent new, although albeit unpublished, report that you may have heard in the news suggesting that there may be an ability for the virus to be transmitted or carried by someone who’s fully vaccinated,” Benkert said “which is why the CDC changed their guidance with regards to masking.”
According to the CDC, a small proportion of fully vaccinated individuals have been infected with COVID-19. The COVID-19 vaccine is effective against the disease and prevents severe illness and death.
Pharmacy Practice Associate Professor Paul Kilgore said the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the Delta variant.
“There’s a little bit of a decrease in the overall efficacy, but keep in mind these vaccines do work against the variant, and I think that’s an important message when we go forward to protect those people who are now not yet vaccinated,” Kilgore said.
An internal CDC document stated that the Delta variant transmits more easily and quickly than other strains of COVID-19, the New York Times reported.
Kilgore said the process of manufacturing and approving booster shots for COVID-19 vaccines should be faster than the original vaccines.
“Whether or not we need them will be dictated by the prevalence and the spread of these Delta variants,” he said. “Right now in Michigan, what we’re seeing is low-level spread, but that could change very quickly.”
Clabo said the possibility of returning to largely virtual operations in the fall will be considered based on the COVID-19 situation.
“The Campus Health Committee monitors the metrics both on campus and in our surrounding community on a daily basis,” Clabo said. “We summarize them on a weekly basis. We look at them every Monday morning, and we have predetermined metrics that served us incredibly well last year.”
Kilgore said decreased temperatures and humidity during the fall season will enable better airborne transportation of the COVID-19 virus.
“So naturally, as people come in doors with cool weather and with lower humidity, we really start to see the ability of the virus to move very efficiently from one person to another,” he said. “What that means is that we need to protect ourselves before we start getting into that cool weather season and particularly when we start coming in doors.”
Vaccinated individuals are welcome to wear masks on campus as a precaution, though they’re not currently required to, Clabo said.
“We’re not going to mandate that others wear masks at Wayne State, that’s not where we are today. (If) conditions on the ground change, that recommendation may change,” she said.
Tools used to measure the impact of COVID-19 on campus include case numbers, possible clusters, and hospitalization and positivity rates, Benkert said.
“So we are really looking at, you know, seven or eight different metrics,” she said. “Each week the committee reviews that data and makes decisions.”
WSU mandated the COVID-19 vaccine for those in student housing this fall. Benkert said the only acceptable exemptions are for religious or health reasons.
“We will be having people fill out declination forms that they get signed by a provider or a religious leader but those will then be reviewed by the Campus Health Committee to determine whether the exemption qualifies for what we recommend,” Benkert said.
COVID-19 testing will be required on a weekly basis for unvaccinated individuals who have valid exemptions, Benkert said.
In an email to the campus community Friday, Clabo said a recent increase in Michigan’s COVID-19 rates may result in WSU mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for the entire campus community. The University of Michigan and Michigan State University will mandate the vaccine on their campuses in the fall, The Detroit News reported.
“While our situation is different from others in many ways, and while our local data continues to be good, we have seen an increase in cases statewide in the past three days,” Clabo said. “We will continue to track these data over the next several days. Depending on that data, we may also consider implementing a campuswide vaccine mandate.”
Benkert said more WSU staff and students getting vaccinated voluntarily may diminish the need for a campus wide mandate. However, a final decision on the matter hasn’t been made yet.
“We’ve had a pretty good uptake of the vaccine from faculty and staff, and so what we’re hoping is that we will continue to see an uptake. We’re not completely ruling it out, but at this point we’re not mandating that,” Benkert said.
Clabo said a new email address 一 firstname.lastname@example.org 一 will enable community members to inquire about campus health policy questions.
Benkert said members of the campus community will still be required to complete the Campus Daily Screener. Visitors will have to complete the Guest Campus Screener.
“And yes, we will continue our extensive contact tracing and isolation and quarantine guidelines as directed by the CDC... We will be monitoring individuals who are in isolation closely and also monitoring those who are in quarantine,” Benkert said.
Stay Warrior Safe, a continuation of last year’s Warrior Safe training, will be available soon, Clabo said. No launch date has been determined.
Benkert advised those who test positive for COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone who has contracted the disease to contact the Campus Health Center, she said.
Clabo said she encouraged staff and students to submit proof of vaccination to WSU’s Summer Warrior vaccine incentive by Aug. 29.
“Here’s your opportunity to take advantage of being a good citizen, getting your vaccination and then being eligible to win some prizes,” she said.
The next virtual Campus Health Town Hall will be held Aug. 12 at 1 p.m.
Kate Vaughn is a contributing writer for The South End. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Cover photo by Kate Vaughn