Omicron and updates to campus guidance
A Message from the COVID-19 Coordinator
As this new year begins, we unfortunately have seen a sharp rise in COVID-19 infections on campus, in New Haven and Connecticut, and in many areas across the country. Hospitals in the area are being stretched to provide care to more infected patients than they have had since the spring of 2020. The university’s decisions to delay the start of the spring semester and to allow remote work when possible are both efforts to help reduce risk during this time of high transmission so that we can return to customary activities on campus very soon.
What do we know about Omicron?
The recent marked increase in COVID-19 infections is largely attributable to the emergence of the Omicron variant of the virus, which was first identified in late November. Although new information arises daily, it is clear that Omicron is much more infectious than previous variants, and it appears to be less susceptible to currently available vaccines. On a more favorable note, Omicron may be less likely than previous variants to cause severe disease, and vaccination does seem to reduce the likelihood of hospitalization and death. Adding a booster appears to impart additional protection against being infected with Omicron.
Even if infection with Omicron leads to severe disease less frequently, it can cause deadly illness, especially in the unvaccinated and those with certain medical conditions. Since it is much more easily transmitted, causing many more infections than its predecessors, we are seeing large numbers of hospitalizations, which have strained our healthcare systems and continue to threaten individuals’ lives and well-being. Indeed, at the time I am writing this message, the numbers of new infections and hospitalizations in our New Haven community are nearly as high as they have been in any peak period of infection during the pandemic.
The bottom line is that Omicron has proven to be a “game-changer” requiring us to fortify—and in some cases modify—the layers of protection that we have used to combat COVID-19. In this message, I will describe some of the measures that public health agencies and the university have taken—and that you can take—to keep us as safe and healthy as possible in these changing times.
· The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), acting on the authorization of the Food and Drug Administration, has expanded its booster recommendations to include individuals ages 12-17 who received their initial series of the Pfizer-BioNTech (Pfizer) COVID-19 vaccine.
· The CDC has changed the eligibility for the Pfizer booster from 6 months to 5 months following the initial two-dose series. Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration amended the emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Moderna booster to at least 5 months following the initial two-dose series for individuals 18 years of age and older. Eligibility criteria will change once the CDC Director issues their recommendation. Eligibility for Johnson & Johnson/Janssen (J&J) boosters after initial vaccination remains at 2 months.
· The CDC has updated its guidance on vaccines to indicate that being “up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations” includes an additional dose of vaccine for individuals who are immunocompromised and a booster for those who are eligible.
· As outlined in my message of December 17, all students who are eligible to receive boosters are required to get them before the start of their school’s semester and all faculty and staff are expected to receive boosters as soon as they become eligible.
Isolation and Quarantine
· The CDC recently made changes in its guidance for isolation for those infected with COVID-19 and quarantine for those who are close contacts of individuals with COVID-19.
· The university’s public health experts reviewed the new CDC guidance along with information from scientific reports and our campus experience to make the following changes in university isolation procedures for those who test positive for COVID-19.
o Vaccinated faculty, staff, and students residing off-campus who test positive for COVID-19 are required to isolate for 7 days or until they are without fever for 24 hours, whichever is longer.
o Unvaccinated individuals who test positive for COVID-19 are required to isolate for 10 days.
o Students in isolation housing will be monitored for symptoms and tested to determine the best time for release from isolation. More details about this procedure will be available soon.
o All individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 must mask in indoor and outdoor settings for a full 10 days, regardless of vaccination status.
· The university’s public health experts will continue to review the new CDC guidance regarding quarantine for those who are close contacts of individuals with COVID-19 to determine whether changes to our current practices are warranted.
· CDC guidance and university policy continue to require masking indoors.
· Based on recent information about the transmission of COVID-19, the university has updated its mask guidance. More specifically, a cloth mask is no longer acceptable protection, except when worn as an over-mask when double-masking.
· Business offices have received instructions on how to order appropriate masks and other protective equipment.
Gathering and Visitor Policies
What can I do?
- Get vaccinated and boosted, and submit your information to the university.
- Upgrade your mask, make sure it covers your mouth and nose and fits snugly to your face, and wear it in the presence of others.
- Stay up-to-date with routine testing if required by your school or workplace.
- Take advantage of free, voluntary testing after travel, after attending gatherings, or any time you are concerned about exposure to COVID-19.
- If you have ANY symptoms, however mild, stay home and get tested and consult your healthcare provider or the Campus COVID Resource Line (203-432-6604).
- Consider postponing nonessential travel and delaying social gatherings or moving them to virtual venues.
- Consult covid19.yale.edu regularly for updates.
- Call the Campus COVID Resource Line (203-432-6604) or contact your Health and Safety Leader if you have questions or need advice.
We have once again been reminded that during a pandemic, conditions can change rapidly and unpredictably. I am confident that the vigilance and wisdom of our public health experts and the diligence and commitment of our community members will once again help us navigate this challenging time so that we can come together on campus as safely and productively 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