January 14, A Healthy Return to Campus

Dear UM Students,

With COVID-19 cases rising steadily in Missoula, the surge predicted to come from the Omicron variant is beginning to impact our campus and community. I write to share our plans for the start of the semester and seek your cooperation and patience as these first few weeks will be challenging.

To be certain, UM will be impacted by the Omicron surge. We will have positive cases, and those positive cases will experience a host of symptoms and varying degrees of illness. While Omicron is highly transmissible, it appears to be milder than last fall’s Delta variant, especially for those vaccinated and boosted. In addition, if Missoula is similar to other parts of the country, we’ll see a steep increase in cases, followed by a rapid decline. The most critical peak of the surge is expected between late January and early February.

We expect that students will test positive for Omicron and need to isolate. We expect employee absences due to their own illness or illness in their families. We expect, despite our best planning, there will be unexpected issues, disruptions and difficulties in the days ahead.

We also fully expect that, working together, we’ll get through them.

To succeed we need your help. We all need to do small things that can help shape the big picture. We will not avoid Omicron, but we can do things to manage it:

  • Get vaccinated and get boosted. Vaccination is the best way to prevent severe illness or hospitalization from COVID-19. A booster dose is recommended five months after receiving the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna primary vaccine series, or two months after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Whether you need a booster dose or you need your first or second dose in the primary series, vaccines are easy to get on campus. COVID-19 vaccines are available on a walk-in basis at the Health Service Pharmacy in Curry Health Center from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call 406-243-5171 if you have any questions.
  • Wear a mask. Masks are required indoors on campus. With the high transmissibility of Omicron, masks with multiple layers of nonwoven material, such as the blue disposable surgical masks, offer better protection. Your reusable Griz cloth masks have layers and a pocket for an optional filter. More information on the types and benefits of different masks and respirators is available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
  • Practice good respiratory hygiene. The same practices that protect during cold and flu season work for COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses. Cover your cough or sneeze, wash hands and use hand sanitizer when handwashing isn’t practical.
  • If you are sick or symptomatic, stay home. If “home” is an on-campus residence hall and you become sick, call Curry Health Center and seek a COVID-19 test immediately. Because residence halls are congregated living environments with shared restrooms, showers, kitchen and lounges, isolation of positive cases is vital to limiting spread within the residence hall. Those living off campus in similar environments should proceed similarly with testing.
  • Especially these first few weeks of class, be mindful about social activities that could increase COVID-19 transmission. Limit your social circles to small groups of friends, spend social time outdoors when practical, practice social distancing and avoid social contact if you are feeling ill.

UM students have made clear their desire to remain in person and enjoy the activities and experiences that COVID-19 took from us early in the pandemic. We heard you! We’ll soon be together. Our ability to stay together depends on how well we navigate the COVID-19 case surge in our community.

As we begin classes next week, please be kind and respectful. We are all disappointed that COVID-19 continues to disrupt our plans, but we are doing our best with a difficult situation. Encourage one another, and reach out if you need help.

Thanks for working with us to make this a great spring semester!

Sarah Swager
UM Vice Provost for Student Success

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