On campus, COVID-19 made an early resurgence, while the monkeypox virus maintains a low-priority threat status.
Early in the semester, COVID-19 cases soared, but have now seemingly declined. Since Aug. 21, the university saw 238 positive COVID-19 tests. The new strains reached their peak in the week of Sept. 4, with 72 total positive results. The weeks before and after saw lower numbers with 61 and 48 total positives, respectively. The latest full week, Sept. 18, saw the lowest numbers, with 18 total positives.
According to Dr. Chris Hayes, M.D., director and physician at the Office of Student Health Services, the new strains are less symptomatic, so they spread more quickly.
“The new strains seem to be more contagious but less virulent, so they’re easier to spread but less likely to kill you,” Hayes said.
Hayes compared the spread of COVID-19 to that of influenzas or Streptococcus in how long it affects campus.
“How long do you think flu will be a problem? How long do you think Strep is gonna be a problem? Since it’s a contagious illness, it’s probably going to be around for a long time. Eventually, we are gonna be less paranoid hopefully as the strains get less and less virulent and it’s gonna be more like, oh you have the Flu, then stay home from classes a couple of days. It will join our repertoire of commonly transmitted illnesses,” Hayes said.
According to Hayes, Pfizer and Moderna both released similar COVID-19 booster shots.
“There is a new bivalent vaccination that is meant to be a booster to the primary vaccine series that specifically has the strains that are circulating right now,” Hayes said, “Pfizer and Moderna both have released a booster. They are the same class of vaccination and they are pretty much interchangeable. You can mix and match between the two of them without much trouble.”
Hayes compared this booster to the annual flu vaccine which contains the various strains of flu going around that season.
The university and Hayes both recommend students with respiratory symptoms, no matter how minor, to wear a mask.
“We are closer to herd immunity, which is good, but the strains may mutate and turn more virulent again. If you wake up in the morning and you have a runny nose and have a cough, ideally you should be going to the doctor and getting checked. But if you choose not to do that, at the very least, be nice to the people around you and put a mask on until your symptoms go away,” Hayes said.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that individuals receive both the Influenza vaccine and the COVID-19 booster shot this season.
According to Hayes, the university doesn’t plan on opening a vaccination clinic or offering the booster shot on campus.
The monkeypox virus is less dangerous than smallpox, Hayes said, and the virus is rather limited in scope for people with standard immune systems.
“(It is) a relatively self-limited and minor illness. You can get little scars where the blisters were. The blisters don’t, if your immune system is normal, generally spread to the entire body the way smallpox used to. People used to die from smallpox, and if they didn’t, they would be horribly scarred,” Hayes said.
Because exposure requires prolonged skin-to-skin contact, and it has low transmission rates from respiratory expulsion, monkeypox numbers stay low, according to Hayes.
Hayes explained the monkeypox vaccine, saying, “We’re using the same vaccine that we have been using for many years in the military to protect military personnel from weaponized smallpox. They are such closely related viruses, so the smallpox vaccine prevents monkeypox. In fact, the vaccine is effective in individuals up to a day after exposure.”
According to Hayes, eligibility for the monkeypox vaccine was limited to those who had been confirmed exposed; however, the Lafayette Public Health office expanded this eligibility recently.
Hayes said multiple studies discovered that the smallpox vaccine is highly effective in much smaller quantities than previously used. In an attempt to minimize the risk of possible weaponized smallpox attacks on the general population due to a highly limited number of available doses, studies discovered that the vaccine is equally effective in as low as one-fifth of the standard vaccine dosage.
Hayes described universities as a “breeding ground” for the virus thanks to the sheer number of young people on campus.
“Campus harbors a lot more young people who are in the experimental phase of their sexuality and may or may not be totally committed to having sex with one partner or gender,” Hayes said.
The university partnered with Lafayette Foundation Clinic (LFC) to provide a one-day opportunity to receive the monkeypox vaccine. The vaccine was limited to those considered at-risk for monkeypox exposure. According the LFC website, these at-risk individuals include members of the LGBTQ community who are sexually active with more than one partner, those with HIV, that are homeless, that utilize IV drips, that trade goods or services for sexual encounters, who maintain prolonged skin-to-skin contact in social situations, or those who work in an environment with increased sexual intimacy. Additionally, laboratory staff are eligible for the vaccine.
Although the on-campus clinic operated for one day, LFC continues to offer the vaccine to anyone eligible.