Fall Semester Public Health Prep: UMass Amherst

In an email to the campus community, Anne Becker and Jeffrey Hescock, co-directors of the Public Health Promotion Center (PHPC), welcomed everyone back to campus and outlined COVID protocols for arriving on campus and the fall semester, as well as considerations for the monkeypox virus smallpox.

This email is as follows:

Dear UMass Amherst Community,

As we approach the fall semester, we are excited to welcome everyone back to campus. This marks the start of the third academic year in which COVID-19 has been present, and our understanding of the virus, along with tools to mitigate its impact, continues to improve. In addition, the campus is closely monitoring developments related to the monkeypox virus (MPV) and has developed university guidelines for monkeypox. Your continued commitment to best practices in public health will help ensure a successful start to the school year.

Consistent with our approach during the pandemic, the University’s policies and protocols are based on federal CDC and Massachusetts Department of Public Health guidelines, and this practice will continue as we monitor local conditions and circumstances this fall. Below are the key aspects for the fall semester.

Pre-arrival COVID-19 test

  • All students are expected to test before arriving on campus. Students can have either a PCR test within 72 hours of arrival or an antigen test (at home) within 24 hours of arrival. If you test positive before returning to campus, you must self-isolate according to CDC guidelines before returning to campus and also notify the UMass Public Health team at [email protected] If you test positive after you arrive on campus, you will need to self-isolate. Please see the isolation management section below for details.

Current testing for COVID-19

  • Students, faculty, staff, and members of their households who need testing because they have symptoms, have been exposed to, or had close contact with someone who has COVID-19 can either get an antigen test (at home), or visit the University Health Service (UHS) for a PCR test. Testing will be billed to a person’s insurance, and most insurance companies cover COVID-19 testing performed for health reasons at no extra cost to you. Students, faculty, and staff should continue to report their positive test results to [email protected] Optional PCR testing (such as travel testing) is available for $25 per test at UHS, a cost significantly lower than that offered by pharmacies and other providers.

Masking and antigenic (home) tests

  • Masks are welcome on campus and masking is strongly encouraged during the first few weeks of the fall semester, especially in crowded areas or for individuals who are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. In accordance with public health guidelines, masks will be required at University Health Services (UHS), the Center for Public Health Promotion, the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health, the Center for Women and Community, and the Center for Language, Speech and Hearing.
  • UMass is a mask-welcoming campus, and we encourage everyone to respect the choices people make about their own masking. Welcome mask signs are available for download. Please note that individuals and departments may not create mask requirements separate from or more restrictive than university requirements.
  • Free KN95 masks and antigen (at-home) tests are available at vending machines located on the lower level of the Campus Center. In addition, every home in the US is eligible to order free home antigen tests through the federal government. We encourage students to take these tests home with them to campus. To prevent the spread of COVID-19 from humans, the FDA recommends that when using antigen tests, you repeat the test after a negative result, whether or not you have symptoms of COVID-19.

vaccinations

  • Students, faculty, and staff are required to have completed a World Health Organization (WHO)-approved primary series of COVID vaccines prior to campus access or to successfully apply for a UMass-approved medical or religious exemption. The university also strongly recommends boosters for COVID-19 when eligible according to CDC guidelines. Vaccines and boosters are readily available at the PHPC Vaccine Clinic. Students can see the University Health Services Immunizations website for more information on how to upload your vaccine records. Faculty and staff may visit the Human Resources Vaccines website for additional information.

Isolation Management

  • People who test positive for COVID-19 will need to self-isolate for a minimum of five days before returning to class, work or attending events. They must then continue to wear a mask for another five days. For more information, see the guide to isolation and precautions for people with or exposed to COVID-19. The campus does not maintain isolation space for individuals who test positive or have been exposed to or have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19.
  • Students on campus who test positive for COVID-19 are expected to self-isolate at an off-campus location, such as their permanent residence, if they can travel there by personal vehicle. On-campus students who are unable to leave campus to self-isolate due to distance or the presence of high-risk household members, regardless of on-campus living situation, will be required to self-isolate in place in their assigned on-campus housing. For more information, see the guide to isolation and precautions for people with or exposed to COVID-19.
  • We strongly advise each student to prepare a self-isolation kit prior to arrival. It should include acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), thermometer, snacks, prescription medications, personal care items (cough drops, contact lens solution, wipes), masks, disinfectant wipes, alcohol-based hand sanitizer and antigen test kits.

Self-observation

Everyone should continue to be monitored for symptoms of COVID-19 every day before coming to campus. Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 should wear a mask, stay home and get tested.

Medical accommodations

The campus continues to have a process for requests for medical accommodations related to COVID-19. These requests will be reviewed under the regular ADA process administered by the Office of Accessible Workplace in the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access. Faculty and staff seeking a medical accommodation should email [email protected] Students seeking accommodations (including students with on-campus employment such as assistantships) should visit the Disability Services website for more information.

Monkeypox virus

The University is also closely monitoring local, regional and national public health situations regarding the global monkeypox (MPV) outbreak. The campus is committed to informing the UMass community about health issues that may affect them. We recognize that there is a risk of stigma or discrimination when a new disease outbreak is reported. We all have a responsibility to reject any stigmatizing words or actions related to the monkeypox virus (MPV) and instead share accurate information so that people can make the best decisions for their health and the health of our community.

Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease because it can be transmitted through any direct physical contact between someone’s rash, scabs, body fluids and another person. This contact can include sexual activity as well as any touching of the lesions/rash or even touching clothing or bedding used by the infected person. We have published university guidance on monkeypox (MPV) which focuses on topics such as what monkeypox is, how it can be spread, what the symptoms are, what to do if people develop symptoms and how people can reduce the risk and prevent the spread .

As we have done during the pandemic, we will continuously monitor public health guidance and local conditions and make adjustments as necessary. The pandemic has taken a heavy toll, and at the same time we have learned how to mitigate the burden of COVID-19 through scientific advances and the everyday mitigation efforts of our entire campus community. We thank everyone for their continued support to keep campus safe as we head into the new academic year.

At your disposal,

Co-Directors of the Public Health Promotion Center (PHPC)

Ann Becker, Director of Public Health
Geoffrey Hescock, Environmental Health and Safety Executive

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