COVID-19, monkeypox policies and prevention for college students

Editor’s Note: This article is meant to be informational and should not be referenced for medical advice. Always consult a medical provider with questions regarding your health.

While it may seem that campus has returned to a pre-pandemic normal this fall, there are new and old health risks students should be aware of.

UCCS and the CDC have several recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as well as the monkeypox virus.

Campus policies

Anyone experiencing new COVID-19-like symptoms should not come to campus until after receiving a negative test result or a different diagnosis, according to UCCS COVID-19 response guidelines.

The ideal testing window is two to five days after symptoms begin. People who test positive for COVID-19 should follow the CDC’s 5/5 rule: Isolate for five days and mask for five days after leaving isolation. If symptoms persist after five days, isolate for 10 days or until after testing negative.

UCCS guidelines no longer require a quarantine period after coming in close contact with someone confirmed positive for COVID-19. However, they recommend wearing a well-fitting mask and monitoring for symptoms for 10 days, even if the exposed person tests negative.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, the CDC recommends vaccination, staying home when ill, getting tested when exposed and improving ventilation and hygiene.

To prevent the spread of monkeypox, the CDC recommends avoiding close physical or sexual contact with any partner who has symptoms and avoiding group settings such as parties and clubs where skin-to-skin contact may occur.

UCCS will now only contact trace for residential students, campus outbreaks and people aged 50 and older. Others should notify their close contacts and can use templates provided by the Wellness Center ([email protected]).

Testing and vaccination

Students can access rapid testing for COVID-19 through the Wellness Center by calling 719-255-4444 and scheduling a $20 telehealth appointment. The University Center information desk and the Wellness Center waiting room also supply free at-home test kits.

Free COVID-19 testing is also available at the Citadel Mall drive-thru site. In addition, UCHealth sites provide PCR testing for $100 by appointment, and Peak Vista community health centers provide testing for a sliding fee scale; both accept insurance, including Medicaid.

The Wellness Center will announce upcoming COVID-19 vaccine clinics via email. Vaccines are also available through retail pharmacies such as Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and Costco.

According to El Paso County Public Health, monkeypox testing and vaccines are limited.

The Wellness Center offers monkeypox testing following a telehealth appointment for students experiencing symptoms. Other healthcare providers may provide testing by appointment.

People aged 18 and older may be eligible for free local vaccination clinics if they have had close physical contact with someone who has monkeypox in the last two weeks, or if they have had multiple unknown sexual partners in the last two weeks.

COVID-19 and monkeypox

The COVID-19 and monkeypox viruses may cause flu-like symptoms such as fever or chills, cough, congestion, sore throat, fatigue and body aches.

Difficulty breathing, loss of taste or smell, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are associated with COVID-19, while a rash is associated with monkeypox.

COVID-19 symptoms usually begin within two weeks and resolve within one to two weeks, according to the CDC. The virus can spread beginning two days prior to the onset of symptoms and for 10 days after, or longer depending on the severity of the infected person’s illness.

In monkeypox cases, the CDC reports that the rash will usually follow flu-like symptoms after one to four days. However, some people may get flu-like symptoms before the rash, while others only experience the rash.

The monkeypox rash may look like pimples or blisters that then become scabs. They may appear on the face, genitals, chest, hands or feet.

Monkeypox spreads through close physical contact, sexual contact and contact with infected surfaces, commonly clothing, bedding or towels. Respiratory fluids like saliva can spread monkeypox, but it does not spread through long-range airborne particles, according to the CDC.

Monkeypox symptoms typically begin within three weeks after exposure and last for two to four weeks. Infected people can spread monkeypox from the initial onset of symptoms until the rash has healed (i.e., a fresh layer of skin has formed without scabs).

The Wellness Center offers services including COVID-19 testing. Photo by Lillian Davis.