With the omicron variant causing a COVID-19 spike in January, the U.S. and Colorado have faced their highest case numbers in the pandemic, bringing with them a national testing shortage.
Accordingly, the UCCS community has also seen a wave of cases at the start of the semester, reporting a total of 143 new cases since Jan. 1 according to the university’s Jan. 28 email update. For students navigating COVID-19 exposure, prevention and vaccine requirements, campus, local and federal resources are available.
Students who have been exposed, tested positive or are experiencing symptoms should not come to campus.
According to UCCS’ COVID-19 exposure guide, those experiencing symptoms should be tested two to five days after symptoms first appear. Those who test positive should isolate for at least five days; they should isolate for a full 10 days if symptoms persist until the fifth day.
To report exposures or positive cases, students should email [email protected]. Contact tracers will gather information, notify other possible exposures and provide further guidance on when students are safe to return to campus.
For students absent due to exposure or isolation, professors are asked not to request proof of a positive test but should cooperate to support students who are isolating, according to the exposure guide.
For those seeking testing, the Wellness Center offers $20 telehealth appointments. Free testing locations include the Citadel Mall, Chapel Hills Mall, Walgreens, CVS and others in the community.
According to UCCS’ Jan. 28 update, the university has also offered free at-home test kits containing two COVID-19 tests to select groups. These include staff and student workers in Dining and Hospitality, Excel Centers, Kraemer Family Library, the University Center and other departments. Employees in these departments can request their kits through their supervisors.
A full list of eligible departments can be found in the Jan. 28 update.
Students who live in the dorms are also eligible and can pick up test kits from the La Plata or Monarch front desks. Faculty who teach on campus can pick up their test kits from their dean’s offices.
For those not eligible to receive test kits through UCCS, a federal program that began on Jan. 14 offers free at-home test kits of four COVID-19 tests per household. Students can order these kits online through the U.S. Post Office.
These tests are expected to ship within 7-12 days of ordering.
Following CDC guidance, the university now recommends upgrading from cloth face masks to medical masks — standard disposable masks made of three-ply, poly-based material — or N95 respirators to protect against COVID-19, according to the Jan. 28 update.
N95 respirators provide the highest level of protection and are most effective when they are fit tested, according to UCCS’ N95 mask resources page. Students can request fit testing and receive a basic N95 respirator from UCCS through this form.
According to the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists, even unfitted N95 respirators provide 25 hours of protection against COVID-19 when worn by both the infected and uninfected person, compared to the 27 minutes of protection provided by cloth masks in the same scenario. Surgical masks, when worn by both people, offer 60 minutes of protection, according to the ACGIH.
Students can also double mask by wearing a medical mask under a cloth mask. When worn this way, the cloth mask helps tighten the fit of the medical mask and increases protection.
Vaccination and attestation
For those looking to start or continue their vaccination and booster series, free vaccines and boosters remain available through community health clinics and the Wellness Center. The Wellness Center will host clinics throughout the semester offering the Moderna series.
An upcoming clinic will take place on Friday, Feb. 4 from 1:15 to 2:15 p.m. after being rescheduled from Feb. 2. Students, faculty and staff can register through the following link. The Wellness Center notifies students of future clinics via email.
The university also asks that students, staff and faculty fill out a form sent via email on Jan. 21 to attest to their vaccination and booster status or request exemption.
Documented proof of vaccination or exemption is not required except for students living in the dorms and NCAA athletes, according to Vice Chancellor for Health and Wellness Stephanie Hanenberg.
While the attestation form lists no deadline, students last semester faced a hold on registration for future classes in their portal if they failed to complete the attestation form.
For the week of Jan. 20-26, the Wellness Center confirmed 50 new cases and completed 89 tests, equivalent to 67% fewer cases per 100,000 people than El Paso County’s rate.
El Paso County reported 9,170 cases in the week of Jan. 20-26 at a rate of 1,269 cases per 100,000 people.
The county’s cases per 100,000 people represent a “critical trigger point,” according to the Jan. 28 update. If campus cases per 100,000 people exceeded El Paso County’s, UCCS would require vaccine documentation or regular testing for students, faculty and staff.