Southern Adventist University’s COVID-19 policy has undergone several changes this semester in accordance with the CDC’s recommendation for the Omicron variant, according to University Health Center (UHC) Nurse Practitioner Michelle Mix.
Masks are now required indoors until further notice. All students exposed to COVID-19 must quarantine unless they have been vaccinated with their second mRNA dose within the last six months, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the last two months or have received a booster dose or have been infected with COVID-19 within the past 90 days, according to Southern’s COVID-19 Quarantine and Isolation Policy. The policy was last updated on January 10.
The number of days required in quarantine and isolation have also changed, according to the policy. Now, students who have been exposed to COVID-19 must quarantine for a minimum of five days. They must also receive a negative COVID-19 test before leaving quarantine and have no symptoms, in addition to “[following] strict masking protocols” for a period of five days after leaving quarantine, according to the policy.
The policy also states that students who have contracted COVID-19 and are in isolation must remain in isolation for a minimum of five days. If their symptoms have diminished by the fifth day and they have not had a fever for 24 hours, they will be allowed to leave isolation.
The UHC will continue to monitor students’ health daily while students are in quarantine or isolation, according to the policy.
In an interview with the Accent, Mix described the reason for changing the quarantine requirement for vaccinated individuals.
“The mRNA vaccines … [are] only about 35% effective at preventing symptomatic illness from the Omicron variant, which means [out of] three vaccinated people who are exposed, two of them will contract [the] symptomatic Omicron variant,” Mix said.
These numbers stand in contrast to the protection offered by the vaccines for earlier variants. According to Mix, the vaccines were 70% to 90% effective in preventing symptomatic illness for previous variants.
Mix also said the Omicron variant is expected to spread quickly, reaching a peak after only four to five weeks.
“Omicron reproduces in the respiratory tract about 70 times faster than Delta does, so it has a much shorter incubation period,” Mix explained further, “meaning people get sick after an exposure faster and therefore spread it more rapidly.”
Mix said she understands that some students may be frustrated about these changes to Southern’s COVID-19 policy.
“Naturally, [the change] is frustrating, especially when students feel like they’re doing everything that they can to protect themselves and protect others,” she said. “I would say you’re not alone in your frustration, and we at the Health Center understand that this is not what anyone would want for their college career. … We recognize that the students are doing what they can, and we hope that they see that the Health Center is doing everything we can as well.”