Hannah Michelle Bussa
UNO students returning to campus this fall need to continue to look for updates on COVID-19 guidance.
“The Delta variant is spreading through our community, and is more transmissible than previous variants,” said Dr. Angela Hewlett, an Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases at UNMC and the Medical Director at the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit.
She said the number of COVID patients at UNMC has increased.
“The large (25-bed) COVID care unit at Nebraska Medicine had three COVID patients at the end of June due to low levels of community transmission,” she said. “This unit is now filled with COVID patients, including multiple critically ill patients. Another hospital unit opened and is now filled, and we are now opening a third unit as well.”
Dr. Hewlett said almost all of these patients are unvaccinated.
“This trend is worrisome, and we are headed for a situation that will stress our healthcare system and make it difficult or impossible to care for patients with other illnesses, perform surgeries, et cetera,” she said.
She said places with higher vaccination rates, like Vermont, are not seeing the surging number of cases and hospitalizations.
“The most frustrating part is that this is preventable,” Dr. Hewlett said.
The most powerful tool currently to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 is vaccination. She said vaccination makes every activity safer, from in-person classes to events and housing.
“The vaccines continue to provide a high degree of protection from severe disease, hospitalization and death, so the importance of vaccination cannot be emphasized enough,” Dr. Hewlett said.
The University of Nebraska system, including UNO, announced that COVID-19 vaccination is strongly recommended, but not required, for members of the university community.
“We know that vaccination is the best way to stop the spread of COVID,” the Interim Executive Director for the Office of Health Security, Jane Meza, PhD, said.
Meza said the estimated vaccination rate for UNO students is similar to that in the community. In Douglas County, 52.5% of individuals 20-34 are vaccinated and 67% of individuals 35-44 are fully vaccinated.
“Getting vaccinated is the best protection against COVID-19 and also protects your family, friends, and community,” Meza said.
UNO is working with the Douglas County Health Department to bring free vaccine clinics to campus during move-in at the residence halls and during the first week of classes. In addition to those clinics, vaccines are available from the Douglas County Health Department and can be found on their website.
Beyond getting vaccinated, Dr. Hewlett said people should continue to wear masks indoors.
“There is a high degree of COVID transmission in our community, so all people—vaccinated or unvaccinated—should be wearing masks in indoor settings,” she said. “The Delta variant is inducing very high viral loads in the nose, making person-to-person transmission easy and efficient.”
She said vaccinated people can still contract COVID and carry high viral loads in their nose, so universal masking is necessary with the current high community transmission rate. However, vaccinated individuals are less likely to become infected and will likely have a milder disease if infection does occur.
“Anyone who develops symptoms should get tested, whether they are vaccinated or not,” Dr. Hewlett said.
If students begin to experience COVID symptoms or have other health needs, Meza said they can visit the Nebraska Medicine UNO Health Center, which is located in the H&K building, by calling 402-554-2374.
“Guidance is constantly changing as more information is gained about the transmission of COVID, the Delta variant, the efficacy of vaccination and many other issues,” Dr. Hewlett said. “It is important to note that constantly changing guidance is a necessary part of managing and mitigating the effects of the pandemic.”
“I would like to thank all of our Mavericks for all they are doing to keep the campus safe,” Meza said. “Together, we can have a healthy and safe semester.”
UNO community members can find updates on vaccine clinics, current mask guidance and other measures to keep campus safe in their campus emails.
“Due to surging COVID cases in Nebraska, the US and the world, we need to use all of the tools we have to fight the pandemic, which include layered interventions like vaccination, universal masking, testing, and quarantine or isolation when appropriate,” Dr. Hewlett said. “If we are able to control the spread of COVID, we can all go back to doing the things we like to do and feel safer in our community.”