For Emory students living and learning on campus this semester, taking responsibility to participate in weekly COVID-19 screening testing has become a critical component in our strategy to help mitigate the virus.

I’d like to take a moment to give credit where it’s due: to date, compliance with our COVID-19 screening testing among students living on campus this term has been outstanding.

In fact, over the first few weeks of the spring semester, students living on campus are averaging over 95% compliance rates for our weekly screening testing program. We’ve also been pleased to see students, for the most part, wearing their masks and limiting gatherings while on campus. Please keep in mind that we are in the orange zone, which means there is still a limit on class sizes and also on indoor and outdoor gatherings with a sponsor.

If you’ve taken part in regular testing and other important safety measures, thank you for your partnership. What may seem like a small moment out of your weekly schedule or a slight shift in your daily habits actually represents a tremendous act of community caring. Believe me, your ongoing commitment to health and safety compliance is making a difference — please keep up the great work.

Weekly COVID-19 screening — for students who are asymptomatic or may have no known exposures to the virus — remains one of our most powerful tools in helping to identify and contain the COVID-19 virus. We continue to listen to student feedback regarding how we can make screening tests more accessible.

As of Feb. 22, we are adding a screening testing site at Goizueta Business School to join our current locations at the Emory Conference Center Hotel, WoodPEC, SAAC-Clairmont and Oxford’s Whatcoat Street building.

However, while Emory students are good community health partners when on campus, we know those behaviors are not always being practiced when students go off campus.

And that’s a problem.

Viral exposures that take place away from campus — due to complacency or forgetfulness — can easily migrate with students once they return to campus. And no one wants to be responsible for exposing others because they choose not to be a good partner.

For that reason, we urge you to be mindful during off-campus outings. Please continue to practice the same basic safety protocols that you follow on campus, including wearing well-fitted face coverings, observing physical distancing and practicing frequent handwashing.

With a shared goal of a full return to campus this fall, now is the time for Emory students to step up and take an advocacy role in support of peer accountability. Please, continue playing a part in supporting the health and safety of both our campus and broader communities — and encourage other students to do the same. You are our best advocate.

While we are encouraged that the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines is now well under way in Georgia, with Emory Healthcare playing a lead role in their distribution, it will still be a while before the supply meets the demand.

Distribution must follow the rollout plan set by the state, which remains in phase 1A+; once the state moves to phase 1B — and supplies are available — Emory community members eligible to receive the vaccine will receive an email notification via our HOME system. But if you have access to the vaccine now through other sources, please don’t wait — take the opportunity.

Now is the time to hold the line against COVID-19 by following basic health and safety protocols — especially given the recent emergence of new variants of the virus that causes COVID-19. Three of those variants have been detected here in the U.S. — some are highly transmittable and spreading rapidly; evidence suggests they may also bring more severe symptoms.

Your best response? Just practice the three W’s:

· Wear a face mask

· Watch your distance

· Wash your hands.

Remember, face masks remain the first line of defense in driving down COVID-19 transmission and providing protection to yourself as well as others. By wearing a good-quality standard surgical mask or a well-fitted, breathable cloth mask made with several layers of fabric, Emory experts say you are taking the right preventive measures.

The responsibility you take now is an act of service that benefits the entire community.

Amir St. Clair is Emory’s associate vice president and executive director of COVID-19 response and recovery.