Increasing Cases, Omicron, and What You Can Do
A Message from the COVID-19 Coordinator
Dear Members of the Yale Community,
As you may know from the media and posted public health information, COVID-19 case rates have continued to increase over the past week in Connecticut and in New Haven. While the vast majority of cases are caused by the Delta variant of COVID-19, infections with the Omicron variant have been detected in Connecticut and continue to emerge across the country and the world.
COVID-19 cases in our campus community have not increased at rates comparable to those in the surrounding city and state. However, our numbers of daily cases remain substantially higher than they were before the Thanksgiving break. Thanks to our robust testing and tracing program and the diligence of the community in following health and safety guidelines, we have been able to avoid outbreaks by quickly identifying and isolating individuals who test positive for COVID-19. Additionally, and importantly, we do not have evidence of workplace or classroom transmission.
All that said, with the arrival of colder weather, the anticipation of holiday travel and activities, and the uncertainties about the future trajectory of the pandemic, now is the time to strengthen our commitment to take all available steps to protect our health and that of our loved ones, our friends, and our community. In this message, I will highlight some of those steps and also provide an update on the Omicron variant.
What do we know about Omicron?
Omicron has been designated as a COVID-19 variant of concern by the United States’ SARS-CoV-2 Interagency Group, though the most prevalent variant identified in the U.S. continues to be Delta. Early observations suggest that Omicron is more transmissible than previous variants. However, much remains to be understood and, although there has been considerable press attention and speculation about Omicron’s symptoms and susceptibility to vaccines, studies looking at those features of the variant are still in preliminary stages. At this time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that public health measures already in place—such as getting vaccinations and boosters, wearing a mask indoors, and being tested regularly, especially in the presence of any symptoms—are our most effective tools to prevent serious illness from Omicron as well as Delta.
What can we do in the face of increasing infections with Delta and uncertainties about Omicron?
While it may be impossible to eliminate the risk of infection entirely, there are many steps we can take to reduce the possibility of contracting and transmitting COVID-19. In my message last week, I described those steps in detail. I will provide a few reminders and updates here:
- Get vaccinated, get a booster as soon as possible
- Preliminary studies suggest that getting a vaccine booster strengthens your protection against all variants including Omicron and Delta. The CDC strongly recommends getting a booster as soon as you are eligible. Doing so before the holidays is another way to protect yourself and your loved ones.
- Yesterday, following authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the CDC recommended that individuals 16 years of age and older get booster shots; previous FDA authorization and CDC guidance applied only to those 18 years of age and older.
- Vaccine appointments initial vaccinations and boosters for those 16 years of age and older, and for vaccinations for children ages 5-15, are available through the Yale COVID-19 Vaccine Program and at sites across the state.
- Get tested if required, immediately if you have symptoms, or any time if you have concerns about exposure
- Yale’s COVID-19 Screening Program will operate during the holiday break with some modification in hours. Please be sure to make an appointment before going to a testing site.
- At-home self-tests (also known as rapid tests) are available at pharmacies and other retail establishments. These tests use a different method than the highly sensitive PCR tests used in Yale’s screening program. While convenient, self-tests are more accurate in detecting COVID-19 in individuals who have symptoms than in those who are asymptomatic. If you have symptoms and test positive, you must isolate and should call your health care provider or the Campus COVID Resource Line (203-432-6604) as soon as possible in order to take advantage of time-sensitive treatments. If you have symptoms and test negative, you should still exercise caution before interacting with others, because respiratory infections other than COVID-19 can also pose serious health risks for certain individuals, such as the elderly and immunocompromised.
- If you are identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, the Yale Contact Tracing Team will notify you either by telephone or by email and provide you with guidance on how to care for yourself and prevent transmission to others. Please be on the lookout for an email from the Yale Contact Tracing Team (firstname.lastname@example.org) with a subject line, “Important Message Regarding COVID Exposure.”
- Earlier this week, Associate Vice President Donald Filer provided travel guidance for the holiday break. Because travel guidance and restrictions evolve every day, you should also consult the CDC and university websites frequently.
- In light of evolving public health conditions, our COVID Review Team is now reaching out to hosts of university-sponsored gatherings to review their plans and identify what additional measures might increase protections for those who attend.
- If you have questions about gatherings you are planning to host or attend, please review the university guidelines and contact your Health and Safety Leader if you need additional advice. The CDC also provides helpful guidance for private gatherings you may be planning or attending over the holidays.
- Answer your phone or open the email from the Yale Contact Tracing Team
- Monitor travel requirements
- Consider risks when attending large gatherings
- Always keep masks available and always wear them when indoors in public spaces
While recent developments call for heightened vigilance, the good news is that today we are in a better position to combat COVID-19 than we were a year ago. We now have wide availability of COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters, the potential for new treatments on the horizon, and the proven effectiveness of measures such as masking. And most importantly we have the unflagging commitment and engagement of our community. Thank you all for continuing your efforts each and every day to keep our campus as safe as possible.
Stephanie S. Spangler, M.D.
Vice Provost for Health Affairs and Academic Integrity
Clinical Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences
University COVID-19 Coordinator