Kent State and College of Public Health Continue Efforts to Keep us Safe

Continued evaluation of safety measures is key to ensure the success of the university’s strategy to minimize the spread of COVID-19 on campus

During the 2022 Spring Semester, many aspects of the university life went back to being very close to pre-pandemic, with the return of in-person classes, activities on campus and full-capacity residence halls. The number of cases of COVID-19 has remained relatively low and all Kent State’s campuses and locations are in counties that currently are at low or medium community transmission levels. However, to ensure the health and safety of students, faculty, staff, and visitors, Kent State’s commitment to minimize the spread of COVID-19 is still high.

According to Melissa Zullo, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology in the College of Public Health,Dr. Melissa Zullo member of the Pandemic Leadership Committee and director of the Pandemic Institutionalization Effort, the COVID-19 crisis is not over. “The virus is not going away. As we’re going towards the endemic part of the pandemic, we’re continuing to keep the campus safe and our prevention strategies are still in place.”

Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) new guidelines that no longer require face coverings indoors in communities with low or medium COVID-19 community level, on March 3, 2022, Kent State updated its mask policy. Face masks are now required only for academic courses in classrooms, laboratories and studios, as well as in the DeWeese Health Center, in the Child Development Center and on all PARTA buses on the Kent Campus. Moreover, citing the consistent decrease in cases since the beginning of the academic year, Kent State also decided not to require weekly COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated students, faculty, and staff anymore until further notice.

However, coordinated testing has always been a key-aspect of Kent State’s strategy response to the pandemic. “In Fall 2020 through Spring 2021, the university contracted with CVS to randomly test a selection of students, staff and faculty while people who were symptomatic were able to get tested at the DeWeese Health Center,” says Zullo. “At the same time, we partnered with the City of Kent and Portage County Health Departments and the Pandemic Response Team of the Ohio National Guard. They held many large COVID-19 testing events on campus.”

According to Zullo, those events were a great opportunity for Public Health students to get involved. “We had many students helping with the testing events and afterwards assisting the city health department with the contact tracing calls. After each of the Ohio National Guard’s testing, about eight to 15 students helped to contact the positive cases and did the case investigation.”

Zullo adds: “Moving into this academic year, we have been partnering with Visit Healthcare that performs up to 3,500 tests per week.” Rapid tests are also available for students, faculty, and staff. “The Ohio Department of Health supplies us weekly with BinaxNow rapid tests for the Kent Campus, and QuickVue tests are distributed to the regional campuses.”

To identify possible COVID-19 outbreaks on the Kent Campus, the university is also monitoring the wastewater from the residence halls. The project is coordinated by Jen Mou, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. “Analyzing the data from the samples collected and processed, we can see if there are increased signals of the virus in the wastewater,” explains Zullo. “First of all, we look for a trend, then we compare it with reported positive cases and eventually we make determinations about the health alerts that need to be sent out to the residence halls. It’s been very helpful.”

As the numbers of COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations continue to decline across the United States and Ohio, Kent State University will continue to tackle the virus moving toward an endemic approach. “We are very fortunate to have worked and keep working so closely and well with the Kent City Health Department. Our relationship with the Health Commissioner has been important and helpful for us to develop our response strategies,” states Zullo. She concludes, “Now we are looking at how to continue to keep the campus safe, following the CDC’s guidelines and working with our faculty, staff and students to learn how to live with the virus, and our vaccination policies are part of that.”

POSTED: Wednesday, March 23, 2022 02:44 PM
UPDATED: Saturday, December 03, 2022 01:02 AM