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How to Stay Safe: Our Public Health Experts Guide for Back-To-School COVID Prevention

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As the highly transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19 continues to spread, our expert public health faculty compiled this guide on how to keep our communities safe. If we can follow the best public health practice based on the most current scientific data, then we’ll be able to return to school and work with the lowest possible risk. Remember: get vaccinated, follow the guidelines, stay safe and stay healthy!


Guidance for our Arizona Communities

At the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health (MEZCOPH) we are committed to the stopping COVID-19. We use the most up-to-date scientific research data, and we turn that knowledge into the best public health practice recommendations that will keep us all safe. This guidance is intended for the general public – everyone in our Tucson and Arizona communities. For guidance that is specific to the UArizona community, see our separate section “Public Health Guidance for the University of Arizona Community” below. All our guidance is aligned with the CDC guidelines. Best practices continue to evolve as pandemic conditions change, and we will update our recommendations. The faculty, staff and students of MEZCOPH stand behind the following public health measures for everyone:

  • Get vaccinated.
  • Wear a mask indoors regardless of vaccination status.
  • Avoid crowded areas, especially indoors.
  • Wash your hands regularly.
  • Stay at home when you are sick and get tested.

The faculty at MEZCOPH understand there is a lot of confusion and frustration around the evolving global pandemic and the changing guidance and policy that comes from all levels of government. We are committed to evidence-based public health guidance and straightforward communication about what we do – and do not – currently know about the virus and how to stop it.

Many of the recommendations we support are based on years of experience with other infectious diseases and our work in public health. We support following CDC guidance for masking in schools and masking indoors regardless of vaccination status. As the data changes, this may change, but right now, this is the best way to slow the rapidly rising case counts due to the Delta variant, and the hospitalizations and deaths that will follow.

Vaccination Works

It’s critically important that those who can be vaccinated find a way to get vaccinated. The vaccine is safe and effective for preventing severe COVID-19 infection, transmission, and has been shown to provide protection from circulating variants of the virus, like the delta variant. The greater our vaccine compliance across the state, the nation, and the world, the safer we all will be. And the more of us that get vaccinated, the closer we will be to the end of this pandemic.

Vaccinations are key in protecting vulnerable groups (e.g., immunocompromised, children) and elderly populations.

Vaccinations are important for young people as well, as some variants may trigger severe illness in young populations.

The vaccines are free and available at multiple locations across Arizona and the nation. Arizona locations: bit.ly/azdhsvaccinefinder. Nationwide locations: https://www.vaccines.gov/

If you are unsure how to approach vaccine hesitancy conversations with your family and friends? Vaccine Hesitancy workshops are being held this semester for UArizona and Tucson community members. To participate in a workshop or for additional information, email: COVIDVAC@arizona.edu.

Wear Your Mask!

Face masks serve as a simple and highly effective barrier to transmission. Masks should always be worn indoors in public group spaces, such as classrooms and restaurants, even if you’ve been vaccinated. Masks have been proven to significantly prevent the spread of COVID-19. If someone is sick and does not know it (the person is asymptomatic), and that sick person is wearing a face mask , then the face mask will help prevent the release of viral droplets into the air, droplets the sick person can discharge when talking or even breathing. Masks are even more important now that the highly transmissible delta variant has become the dominant strain of the virus.

Ventilation

Ventilation is vital. When possible, bring fresh air into the classroom or workplace so that the new air will dilute any virus that might be inside. Outdoor gatherings are much lower risk because the air moves, the breeze blows, and any tiny viral droplets are quickly dispersed. Along with schools, many workplaces and businesses have significantly improved ventilation using their HVAC systems to help stop the spread.

Physical Distance

Keeping some ‘space in the place’ is an effective way to stop the spread of COVID-19. If possible, enable employees to work from home. When people need to gather inside a building, try to keep everyone at least 6 feet apart, ideally further. The virus primarily spreads through tiny droplets in the air, what health researchers call “aerosols,” and they very rarely travel more than 3-6 feet. If we keep our physical distance (we all need some space!), the virus will have a harder time spreading. The layout of a classroom or workplace can make a big difference by keeping people spaced apart.

Learn more about Public Health Guidance for:

Public Health Guidance for the University of Arizona Community

The guidance in this section has been gathered specifically for our University of Arizona community. For general community guidelines, refer to our other section. All of our recommendations align with the University of Arizona COVID guidelines, and best practices continue to evolve as conditions change. We also provide guidance specific to the Zuckerman College of Public Health in a separate section.

Our UArizona Wildcat Community is composed of people with diverse backgrounds. With this diversity comes variability in the continued risk of COVID-19 infection for our staff, faculty, and students, and also for their family and friends. Some people you encounter on campus will not be vaccinated, are immunocompromised, or live with people who are unvaccinated or immunocompromised.

We must respect the health needs and choices of others while continuing to protect ourselves and our community. While vaccines are highly effective, they are not perfect. Even if you are vaccinated, you could pass the highly transmissible Delta variant to others, and that means your risk is their risk. The Delta variant poses a significant health threat to our community. We expect all Wildcats to continue to do their best to keep transmission low on campus through the following actions.

  1. First and foremost, get vaccinated! We will have sites on campus for vaccination and there are many in the community. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Vaccines are free and available at Campus Health for UArizona students/staff. Upload your vaccine record and you will be entered for a chance to win great prizes!
  2. Continue to wear a mask when you are indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Everyone is required to wear a mask indoors, especially in crowded indoor settings such as a classroom, lab, cubicle offices, and meeting rooms. When attending office hours please wear a mask to protect both yourself and those you are meeting.
  3. Stay home if you are sick. If you fall ill, even if you’re not sick with COVID-19, stay home. No one wants to be around individuals who are sick. Rest up, feel better and then rejoin us. Please get tested if you’re not feeling well and your medical provider recommends it.
  4. Get tested if you have been around someone who is sick, or if you are sick, or you are living with vulnerable household members. Remember it takes about 3-5 days after exposure to test positive for COVID-19. Another respiratory virus, RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus), is prevalent this year and mimics the symptoms of Covid-19. Symptoms of the seasonal flu and common cold may also be similar, but risk and treatment are different. Please get tested at Student Health for COVID-19 if you feel ill regardless of your vaccination status to help guide your care. Our on-campus testing is free and easy to use.
  5. Download the Covid Watch Arizona app. The more people use the app, the better it works! You can confidentially learn of exposures you may have had and share your positive result anonymously with those you may have exposed.
  6. Respond to contact tracers. If you do happen to be diagnosed with COVID-19, respond to the contact tracers so we can help prevent further spread.
  7. Keep up to date. Monitor our COVID-19 dashboard and UArizona COVID policies so you are aware of what is happening on campus and in the community.
  8. Raise awareness with your friends and colleagues. We all want COVID-19 to be over, but it isn’t. Most of the world is still unvaccinated. New variants, like Delta will continue to arise and we need to be vigilant and actively work together to prevent the spread.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for the University of Arizona Community

What is the University of Arizona doing to keep campus safe?

We are doing everything in our power to maintain safety on campus. This starts with personal responsibility: masking, handwashing, and caution with social interactions. In addition, the campus has installed excellent ventilation and filtration systems in classrooms, provides free onsite testing and vaccination, conducts careful contact tracing, urging the download and use of the exposure notification app COVID Watch Arizona, and providing materials such as good quality masks and hand sanitizer.

What is my risk on campus?

With the above measures, we’re trying to make campus as safe or safer than our community in general. This also depends upon multiple factors. Transmission will be highest in unvaccinated individuals who choose to not wear masks indoors. While we anticipate that most people will be vaccinated, continue to wear a mask indoors, and get tested when they are exposed, we cannot mandate these actions. Therefore, if you are around individuals who are not wearing their masks or who are not vaccinated your chances of infection will be higher. 

How can I make myself safer?

Avoid situations where you would be indoors with people who are not wearing a mask, or who you know are not vaccinated. If it is part of your job requirements to do so, you can protect yourself by getting fully vaccinated, wearing a high quality mask, and meeting in areas with good ventilation.

What is going on with the Delta variant? If I am vaccinated, should I be worried?

The Delta variant causes more breakthrough infections (infection in vaccinated individuals) than previous variants. If you have been vaccinated, you still have good individual protection from severe illness, even if you get infected. However, effectiveness of mRNA vaccines (Pfizer or Moderna) is lower for Delta infection – estimates range from 64% - 86% effectiveness. There is less data on the J & J vaccine but since its effectiveness has always been lower than the mRNA vaccines, it is likely even more prone to breakthrough infections. All vaccines are very effective for preventing severe illness or fatal infection, but not 100%.

Can I transmit the virus even if I am vaccinated?

If you are infected, you can spread the virus, especially if you are not showing signs of illness. Therefore, if you live with unvaccinated individuals and have a breakthrough infection, you will be able to transmit the virus to other people. It is of the utmost importance that you take precautions if you live with or interact with unvaccinated individuals or anyone at higher risk. Unfortunately, some immunocompromised individuals may also face lower vaccine effectiveness, and should be more cautious.

If I am around all vaccinated individuals at work and I am also vaccinated, should we wear a mask?

Yes, if you are around individuals outside your household it is highly recommended that you wear a mask indoors in the presence of other people even if everyone is vaccinated.

How do I talk to my students and/or staff about COVID?

Use the information offered above to provide guidance and awareness of the services provided by the university. Remember to listen, and bring compassion and respect to all interactions. Correct misinformation when you hear it and point students or colleagues to quality information resources.

How can I talk to friends and family about getting vaccinated?

When you speak with others who have not yet been vaccinated and may be apprehensive about the vaccine, remember to be kind and compassionate. There are many different reasons why people have not received the vaccine, so respect personal choice and avoid confrontation, even as you seek to educate and learn. Ask questions, and correct misinformation when you hear it.

A Public Health Approach to Community Protection

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Community Safety and COVID

How can I make myself safer?

Avoid situations where you would be indoors with people who are not wearing a mask, or who you know are not vaccinated. If it is part of your job requirements to do so, you can protect yourself by getting fully vaccinated, wearing a high quality mask, and meeting in areas with good ventilation.

What is going on with the Delta variant? If I am vaccinated, should I be worried?

The Delta variant causes more breakthrough infections in vaccinated individuals than previous variants. You still have good individual protection from severe illness, even if you get infected. However, effectiveness of mRNA vaccines (Pfizer or Moderna) is lower for Delta infection – the estimates range from 64% - 86% effectiveness. There is less data on the J & J vaccine but since its effectiveness has always been lower than the mRNA vaccines, it is likely even more prone to breakthrough infections. All vaccines are very effective for preventing severe illness or fatal infection, but not 100%.

Can I transmit the virus even if I am vaccinated?

If you are infected, you can spread the virus, especially if you are not showing signs of illness. Therefore, if you live with unvaccinated individuals and have a breakthrough infection, you will be able to transmit the virus to other people. It is of the utmost importance that you take precautions if you live with or interact with unvaccinated individuals or anyone at higher risk. Unfortunately, some immunocompromised individuals may also face lower vaccine effectiveness, and should be more cautious.

If I am around all vaccinated individuals at work and I am also vaccinated, should we wear a mask?

Yes, if you are around individuals outside your household it is highly recommended that you wear a mask indoors in the presence of other people even if everyone is vaccinated.

 

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