A joint statement from Dr. Richard Moody, Michelle Mix, NP, and Dorinda Harriss, NP:
Since the beginning of SmartStart, the University Health Center (UHC) staff has been working diligently to evaluate, treat and manage COVID-19 patients and their close contacts. Many employees are working up to 70 hours a week to keep up with the high case numbers and need for contact tracing. In addition to COVID-19 related visits, the UHC is also trying to keep up with non-COVID-19 related concerns of students, employees and dependents. Most days, the nursing staff are double- or triple-booked in order to accommodate the high demand for testing.
At this time, we have COVID-19 vaccine records from approximately one-third of the undergraduate population. We believe there are a number of individuals who have not provided the UHC with their vaccine cards and those individuals are not counted toward that number. However, we are seeing a number of vaccine-breakthrough COVID-19 cases. The good news is that breakthrough cases in the student population tend to result in mild to moderate symptoms. Unvaccinated students are becoming much sicker than last year. The Delta variant is two to three times as contagious as the previous variants and is causing younger people to have more severe symptoms such as high fever for many days, persistent headache, deep cough and body aches. We are sending many members of our campus community to receive an IV or subcutaneous dose of monoclonal antibodies. These antibodies help the infected person fight the virus and reduce the likelihood of severe symptoms, hospitalization and death. The individual must meet certain criteria to qualify for this treatment.
We encourage the student body to check our daily isolation and quarantine report at southern.edu/safety. Our quarantine rooms in the dorms are right at capacity, and we are seeing an average of three to four new COVID-19 cases a day, some days as high as eight new cases. Many of these infected people have upwards of 30 close contacts between their social and classroom history. Unlike last year, we are unable to do our Low Risk Surveillance Program—only testing classroom contacts and NOT quarantining—because the distancing between classroom seats was removed to accommodate large class sizes. Close contacts who are vaccinated do not need to quarantine unless they have symptoms of illness. However, they still need to test three to five days after the exposure to ensure they have not contracted the illness.
Many of you are asking why the vaccinated exposures do not have to be quarantined since they are still able to contract and spread COVID-19. Overall, vaccinated exposures are still much less likely to develop the illness. We are also testing each of these individuals three to five days after the exposure to ensure they are not developing the virus.
Another common question is why antibodies cannot be used to avoid quarantine. If an exposed person has had a positive COVID-19 test within the 90 days preceding the exposure, they do not have to quarantine or test. However, antibodies showing past exposure to COVID-19 are not a valid method to ensure adequate immunity in the collegiate setting, according to the Tennessee Department of Health and the Hamilton County Health Department.
The UHC staff remains committed to the health and safety of our campus community. We want you all to be aware of what is happening on campus and ask for your help in reducing the spread of COVID-19 on our campus. Please wear a mask, social distance and report symptoms of illness (even very mild symptoms) immediately.
If you are interested in being vaccinated, please call the UHC at 423-236-2713 and a free ride to a local pharmacy will be scheduled for you. All three vaccines are available and free of charge.
The UHC is still planning to host a local pharmacy, River City Pharmacy, that will come to campus and provide Moderna. An exact date is to be determined due to complications with the vaccine supplier. We will provide updates as soon as they become available.