The Centers for Disease Control, as well as the University of Utah, released an updated set of loosened COVID-19 guidelines last month. Some of the biggest changes included advising those exposed to COVID-19 to wear a mask for 10 days in lieu of quarantining, and “updating its guidance for people who are not up to date on COVID-19 vaccines on what to do if exposed to someone with COVID-19,” according to the CDC’s website.
“The COVID guidelines for Fall 2022 are similar to what we have done in the past,” said Dr. Kimberly Shoaf, professor in the division of public health at the U, via an email statement.
She said students are required to complete their primary series of any FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine and recommended students receive the new Bi-valent booster two months after their primary vaccine.
However, the U did make changes to the way they approach the pandemic for the new semester.
“Following the CDC recommendation, we are no longer quarantining anybody who has been exposed to a case of COVID-19,” Shoaf said. “However, if you know you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, we still ask you to report that through the Self-Report form and wear a mask for 10 days when around others.”
From there, those who self-report, or who are informed of exposure in a classroom setting, will be enrolled in the Active Monitoring system, for which they will receive up to three emails or text messages each day with reminders to take their temperature and report any new symptoms.
“The biggest difference in our current response is that we no longer are quarantining individuals who are not up to date with their vaccines,” Shoaf said. “Our Active Monitoring System provides us with a way to continue to monitor people who have been exposed to COVID-19 and are thus at higher risk of developing COVID-19.”
She added that despite the new guidelines, students should continue to isolate and get tested if they develop symptoms of COVID-19 and encouraged students to use on-campus symptomatic testing, but home antigen tests are acceptable.
“Please act as if you are positive until you are sure that you don’t have COVID,” she said. “If you continue to have symptoms, you should continue to isolate until they improve, even if you test negative. We don’t want to share any germs on campus.”
Those who do test positive should quarantine themselves from others, Shoaf said.
“You may shorten that isolation period to five days if your symptoms have significantly improved and you test negative, using an antigen test, after day five,” Shoaf said. “If you test negative and are mostly symptom-free, you may return to classes, but need to stay masked through day 10 when around others.”
Some students feel loosening the restrictions at this point in the pandemic still may not be the safest option.
“I feel unsafe with the new COVID-19 guidelines right now,” said Max Jette, a second-year Chinese and Spanish major. “I feel like many students at the U do not follow the new guidelines. Many people proceed to not wear masks even after contact with people who have COVID.”
Jette said they feel more people would adhere fully to COVID guidelines if they were tighter, rather than more lenient.
“The University follows the guidance provided by the CDC as well as that provided by the Utah Department of Health and Human Services and Salt Lake County Health Department,” Shoaf said. “At the campus, we take that guidance into consideration, remembering that we have students living on campus and many people who are in close contact to one another in classrooms and meetings.”
Shoaf added the U understands some students may still be feeling apprehensive regarding possible exposure to COVID-19 as well as the new recommendations.
“While the new variants appear to have lower rates of hospitalization and death, we know that many people may be more vulnerable to the virus and immediate complications to an infection,” she said. “The new variants also continue to be a risk factor for long COVID and other health complications in the months following an infection. For this reason, everyone should be concerned about getting COVID-19.”
Shoaf advised students to stay up to date on their vaccines and wear a mask while indoors with other people, as well as utilize the U’s testing services.
“Weekly testing, using the Campus Asymptomatic Testing, is also a good way to know if you have been infected,” she said. “It also helps the campus to make decisions about the rate of infections on campus so we can make temporary changes to classes and recommendations.”
While Jette understands the reasoning for the loosened guidelines, they think the U could be doing more in terms of making these vulnerable students feel safe.
“We know that COVID isn’t going to leave anytime soon,” they said. “I feel like making mandates right now won’t be beneficial for any of us, but having masks in every classroom could be a start to lower cases and increase protection on unvaccinated and high-risk health condition students.”
For now, Shoaf advised that every student adhere to the current guidance and take steps to protect themselves and others. “Certainly we hope a day will come that this is no longer necessary,” Shoaf said. “But for now, continuing with these steps will help make the campus safer and, in turn, you as a student.”