Emory University is transitioning from a crisis operations model to a new phase of COVID-19 response due to widely available testing and vaccines, according to an Emory Forward email from Chief Resilience Officer Amir St. Clair. The new COVID-19 operating model will take effect for the 2022-23 academic year.
St. Clair also urged students to protect themselves from monkeypox as they return to campus. The United States declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency on Aug. 4, adding another layer of concern as Emory students near the start of the school year.
There have been 120 positive COVID-19 cases reported among students and faculty and staff in the past 10 days, according to the University’s COVID-19 dashboard. This is slightly more than the 114 cases reported at the end of the 2021-22 academic year on May 1.
Emory will be retiring its crisis operations model — which was based on an operating status meter that color-coded campus COVID-19 protocols as green, yellow, orange and red depending on the severity of cases — to adopt a new COVID-19 operating model.
The new model will feature two levels: standard operations and heightened response state. Under the standard operating status, community members will be asked to remain vigilant and follow healthy behaviors, such as self-monitoring their health, washing their hands and disinfecting their personal spaces. If COVID-19 cases increase, the University may shift into the heightened response status and implement stricter protocol, such as reinstating mask requirements.
The University is also shifting away from using contact tracing teams to implement a new self-guided process for reporting positive COVID-19 cases and identifying close contacts. Students who test positive will be expected to fill out a “COVID-19 Reporting” form on the Return to Campus portal. They will then receive personalized isolation protocols. Students who test positive will also be able to identify close contacts, who will then receive instructions on further precautions.
Emory community members are strongly recommended to take a COVID-19 test before returning to campus, although it is not required. Students, faculty and staff are still required to be vaccinated and with one booster dose against the virus, unless they are granted a medical or religious exemption.
Masking will continue to be optional in most indoor spaces on campus, with the exception of Emory shuttles and public transportation, as well as in clinical, patient care and select research facilities, including Student Health Services.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported 851 cases of monkeypox in Georgia — the fourth highest case count in the United States.
There are still many unknowns about monkeypox, St. Clair noted in an email to the Wheel. He explained that public health agencies are still developing guidance for understanding monkeypox transmission and prevalence, as well as what a surge of cases may look like.
“We should be prepared for this evolving public health emergency to impact the Emory University community in some way, but with an active commitment to practice safe and healthy behaviors and stay informed on monkeypox developments, we hope to mitigate its impact at Emory,” St. Clair wrote.
Monkeypox is a viral disease related to smallpox, although it causes much milder symptoms and is rarely fatal. The first five days of monkeypox, called the prodromal period, are usually characterized by fever, malaise, headache, swollen lymph nodes and sometimes a sore throat and cough. The rash typically associated with monkeypox — which looks like pimples or blisters — will appear one to three days after the fever.
The disease is largely spread through close and sustained skin-to-skin contact, although it can also be spread through indirect contact with bodily fluids or lesion materials, as well as through shared objects such as towels and bedding.
The risk of contracting monkeypox also increases with travel to countries with confirmed cases of monkeypox or where monkeypox is endemic.
Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted illness, but because the disease is spread through close contact, having sex can increase the risk of transmission. Men who have sex with multiple men — especially those who meet online — are more likely to contract monkeypox, according to the World Health Organization. Data collected by the CDC shows that 99% of U.S. monkeypox cases have occurred in men, 94% of whom reported “recent male-to-male sexual or close intimate contact.” Racial and ethnic minority groups are also disproportionately affected, the CDC reported.
The Georgia Department of Public Health found that 82% of Atlanta’s monkeypox cases are among Black men who have sex with men.
Students who are experiencing symptoms and have either been exposed to someone with a known monkeypox rash or traveled in a country with known transmission of monkeypox should make an urgent care appointment with Student Health. Those diagnosed with monkeypox will have to isolate for two to four weeks, or until symptoms have resolved and the rash is healed.
Although Student Health is not currently providing the monkeypox vaccine, the CDC recommends that at-risk individuals should get vaccinated. This includes people who have been exposed to someone with monkeypox and people who have had multiple sexual partners in the past two weeks in an area with known monkeypox, particularly among men who have sex with men. Laboratory workers exposed to orthopoxviruses, which include monkeypox, and some healthcare and public health officials should also get vaccinated.
Vaccines are available through the DeKalb County Board of Health, although the Board’s website states that demand for the vaccine is far greater than the supply in Georgia. The county will offer more appointments as they receive the vaccine.
Those eligible for the vaccine in DeKalb County include “people who are close personal contacts of people with monkeypox, individuals who may have been exposed to monkeypox and gay and bisexual men who have sex with men (MSM) who have more than two partners in the past 14 days.”
Residents are permitted to receive vaccines outside of the county they live in if they meet the eligibility requirements.
St. Clair noted that Emory has relied on a “partnership model” between the University and members of the Emory community throughout the pandemic. This upcoming year, the University will “lean more heavily on educating and empowering our students, faculty and staff to take active roles in following public health guidelines and university protocols.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic, and now the emergence of monkeypox, has shown us that our students involvement in a public health response is more important than ever, and the healthy behaviors and public health measures we’ve built over the past few years must be an ongoing, daily practice moving forward,” St. Clair wrote.