COVID Communication: January 6, 2022

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Note: This is a lengthy COVID update to start the new year, but please read through it entirely. There is new information regarding testing, isolation and quarantine, masks and what to expect as the Omicron variant begins to impact our campus and community.

Dear Campus Community,

We look forward to being back together on campus for the start of the spring semester. Unfortunately, we begin 2022 with cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 on the rise. We continue to monitor the impacts of COVID-19 and have been watching this latest variant to understand potential impacts to our campus. This update provides the latest information we have regarding COVID-19.

Omicron Will Impact Missoula and UM

Several models, including this one from University of Washington, predict that new COVID infections (predominantly the Omicron variant) will not peak in Montana until mid-February. We expect to see cases in Missoula and on campus rise each day for the coming weeks. This same model shows cases declining steadily after mid-February.

For most people – especially those who are vaccinated – Omicron presents with relatively mild symptoms. More data are needed to fully assess the severity of Omicron infections, but observations from some hospitals currently experiencing high admission for COVID note that a smaller proportion of patients are in ICU or requiring serious interventions compared to Delta variant. We will continue to assess information on local hospitalizations and impacts to health care systems in our community.

Vaccines Are Highly Effective in Preventing Serious COVID Outcomes

Vaccines and boosters are effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations and death from COVID-19, even as data suggest breakthrough infections are more common with the Omicron variant. 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.

Masks

The CDC continues to recommend wearing masks in public indoor settings in areas of substantial community spread, regardless of vaccination status. The University will begin the semester continuing to require masks for students and employees in all indoor spaces

CDC Updates Guidance for Isolation and Quarantine

In December, the CDC updated and shortened the recommended isolation and quarantine periods for COVID-19. 

If you test positive for COVID-19 (regardless of vaccine status), you should isolate for five days and, if your symptoms are resolving (without fever for 24 hours) or you are asymptomatic, wear a mask around others for an additional five days to minimize risk of infecting others. If your symptoms persist, you should continue to isolate until the above conditions occur.

If you were exposed to someone with COVID-19 (i.e. a close contact), take the appropriate course of action:

  • If you have been boosted, have completed the primary series of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine within the past six months or have completed the primary series of the J&J vaccine within the last two months, wear a mask around others for 10 days and then test on day five, if possible. If you develop symptoms, get a test and stay at home.
  • If you are unvaccinated or have completed the primary series of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine over six months ago and are not boosted, completed the primary series of J&J over two months ago and are not boosted, or completed the primary series of J&J vaccine within the past two months, then stay home for five days. After that (provided symptoms are improving or gone, including fever-free for 24 hours), continue wearing a mask around others for five additional days. If you cannot quarantine, you must wear a mask for 10 days. Test on day five if possible. If you develop symptoms, get a test and stay home.

Testing

With case numbers increasing, we do expect high demand for COVID-19 testing. Curry Health Center will continue to offer symptomatic testing to students.

  • Beyond campus testing, there are testing options in the community and available antigen test kits to use at home.
  • The Missoula City-County Health Department testing site has moved to a new location: 3665 W. Broadway. Call 406-258-4696 to schedule a test.
  • There are a number of testing sites in the community that perform antigen, PCR and Rapid Diagnostic Tests (IDNow). An online search can identify available sites. Walgreens continues to offer free drive-up testing in Missoula. Visit their website to learn more and to schedule an appointment.
  • Generally, if you are symptomatic, a home antigen test also can provide an indication of an infection. There are some concerns about the sensitivity of antigen tests in detecting Omicron (especially early infection), so a follow-up molecular (PCR) test may be necessary to confirm an infection. If you test positive for COVID-19 with a home test, you should self-isolate and consult with a medical care provider to determine next steps.

As a community, we hope by working together we can limit the spread of COVID-19. We ask for your help in these efforts with a few simple requests:

  • If you intend to be vaccinated/boosted for COVID-19, please do so as soon as possible.
  • Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth while indoors on campus. We do not recommend wearing bandanas, gaiters or masks with exhalation valves as face coverings. The CDC has helpful guidance on correct and consistent mask use and the types of masks that work best to reduce transmission.
  • If you are sick, please stay home.* Seek a COVID-19 test if you are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. (*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.)
  • Please practice good respiratory and hand hygiene (i.e. cover your cough/sneeze, wash hands, etc.) This is the season for a number of respiratory illnesses beyond COVID, including influenza, RSV, bronchitis and common colds. With all of them, the keys to reducing transmission are the same: Wash your hands, watch your distance and wear your mask.

Thanks for your help in working to reduce COVID-19 cases and transmission on campus. This will enable us to keep on learning, working and enjoying our University together as we navigate the anticipated surge in cases in the coming weeks.

Be well,

COVID Response Team

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