Dear Danforth Campus community,
As we begin the spring semester, we wanted to share with you the latest information on COVID-19, in hopes of answering some of the questions that you may have. The situation continues to evolve rapidly and we are closely monitoring developments on campus, in our region and across the nation. We know there are a number of areas that are of particular interest right now. As has been the case since last spring, there are people here in the WashU community and in St. Louis who have COVID-19, so this is a critical time for all of us to remain vigilant.
New COVID-19 variants
There have been multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19, some of which are known to be in the United States. These variants are not at all unexpected; in fact, this is exactly how viruses behave and we have known all along that there would be mutations over time. The currently known variants are certainly something to watch, but we do not believe they are cause for changing any of our mitigation efforts at this time. Thus far these variants do seem to spread more easily. This makes it even more important that we all follow our public health requirements at all times – masking, physical distancing and self-screening for symptoms. These are the things we need to continue to do to stay safe. You can learn more about new COVID-19 variants on the CDC website. We are closely following the situation and are prepared to change our strategies should the need arise.
The state of Missouri continues to work through its COVID-19 Vaccination Planand is beginning implementation of Phase 1B, which includes people ages 65 and older. BJC HealthCare is a state-designated supplier of the vaccine and is asking everyone to pre-register for the vaccine on the BJC website (https://www.bjc.org/Coronavirus/Covid-19-Vaccines). We also encourage you to pre-register through your local municipalities and other health care systems, if you have the opportunity to do so. At this time there are no plans for the university to administer the vaccine to Danforth Campus employees or students. We remain in close contact with the state, BJC and our regional health departments and will let you know right away if this changes. See this Vaccine FAQ for additional information.
We continue to work closely with members of our community to conduct contact tracing for those who have tested positive for COVID-19. Through this process, we work to identify close contacts of COVID-positive individuals and notify anyone who may need to be instructed to quarantine. In many cases where a person who tests positive has been in contact with others, but all were masked, physically distanced and otherwise in a safe environment, there will be no close contacts, so no need to notify anyone. Every case is different, and we are taking a very thorough approach to determining who might be a close contact. If you believe you have been a close contact of someone with COVID-19 please call the COVID call center at 314-362-5056. More information about contact tracing is available on the WashU Together website.
Vaccine and public health requirements
The COVID-19 vaccines are great news for both the broader public health and for individuals. Once enough people are vaccinated, we expect to see COVID-19 cases decline significantly, which will allow gradual easing of restrictions, layer by layer. But until those COVID-19 numbers drop to safer levels, we need to maintain gathering limits, keeping our distance from others, screening for symptoms, and most importantly, masking when around people who don’t live with us. As the COVID-19 vaccine is becoming available, it is important to remember that even if you have had one or both doses of the vaccine, you still must follow all public health requirements. There are two main reasons for this. We know the COVID-19 vaccines work really well at preventing symptomatic infection, hospitalization and death; in fact, they are among the most effective vaccines available to prevent any illnesses. However, the protection is not quite 100% so there remains a small chance you could get sick when there is still a lot of spread happening in the community. Also, we’re not quite sure yet how well the vaccines work to prevent asymptomatic infection that could be spread to others. So even if you don’t get sick, you might still be able to make others sick. This guidance also applies to people who have had and recovered from COVID-19.
We know there are a lot of questions out there, especially as new information is becoming available and things are continuing to change. We would like to invite you to an Ask the Doctors town hall this Wednesday, January 27 at 6 p.m. Visit the Ask the Doctors page on the COVID-19 website for details and the URL to log in to participate on Zoom or watch on YouTube. You can submit questions in advance to firstname.lastname@example.org or bring them to the town hall and put them in the chat. We hope to see you there to share the latest updates and answer your questions.
We are proud of everyone’s hard work and diligence to help keep each other safe. By following all of our guidelines and requirements, we were able to keep the number of COVID-19 cases on campus at manageable levels this fall, and we have great faith in all of you that we can keep up the good work to have a successful spring semester as well.
Thank you for your ongoing commitment to the health of our community. We hope to see you at the town hall.
Steve Lawrence, MD, MSc, FIDSA
Associate professor of medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases
Assistant dean for curriculum and clinical sciences, Office of Medical Student Education
Cheri LeBlanc, MD
Executive director, Habif Health and Wellness Center
Assistant professor, Department of Medicine