Universities in Greater Cincinnati Make COVID-19 Safety Plans for Fall

Northern Kentucky University and Xavier University both require masking on campus, but in different situations.

Northern Kentucky University will require masking on campus this fall. - Photo: nku.edu
Northern Kentucky University will require masking on campus this fall.

Like they've done throughout the pandemic, institutions of higher learning in Greater Cincinnati are preparing for another semester of COVID-19 safety protocols. But this time, precautions may look a little different, depending on the school.

As the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus quickly spreads throughout Kentucky and Ohio, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) once again recommends that both unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals wear face masks, especially indoors and in regions of great virus transmission or low vaccination (the CDC labels most counties in the Cincinnati area as "substantial" or "high" risk). The federal agency also urges all K-12 schools to require masking for students, employees and visitors, regardless if they've received an authorized COVID-19 vaccine or not.

But the CDC largely has left colleges and universities out of its recent announcements, so those in Greater Cincinnati are making their own safety plans for the upcoming fall semester.

Beginning Aug. 4, Northern Kentucky University requires everyone on campus to mask up when indoors, no matter their vaccination status. In an email from the provost to all faculty, staff and students this week, NKU says that it will provide reusable masks to its community, plus it will have a limited supply of disposable masks on hand.

From NKU's email:

Unfortunately, the risk of infection with the Delta variant of COVID-19 is very high in our region and we must take steps to protect our campus community. Face masks have proven highly effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Given the high level of community spread of the Delta variant and the relatively low level of fully vaccinated individuals in our region, we have no choice but to require masks indoors on campus for all persons, vaccinated and unvaccinated. This indoor masking requirement becomes effective on Wednesday, August 4.

NKU also stresses that community members should get an authorized Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine to help guard against severe COVID-19 symptoms and to protect others. The university provides free COVID-19 vaccines at its NKU Health, Counseling and Student Wellness office on campus, and Kentucky residency is not required to get one.

"We strongly encourage individuals to get a COVID-19 vaccination. The current growth in infections underscores the urgency of increasing the number of vaccinated individuals in our region," NKU's email says. "The vaccines are safe and effective in preventing serious disease. Please get vaccinated if you have not done so already."

The university will not mandate vaccination, Atley Smedley, a public relations representative at NKU, tells CityBeat. Read Northern Kentucky University's COVID-19 guidelines.

At Xavier University, officials are asking unvaccinated students to wear masks when on campus. The university also urges its community members to get a coronavirus vaccine.

From Xavier's website:

In addition to the personal protection provided by the vaccine, Xavier joins with other Catholic organizations to promote vaccination as an act of charity and solidarity with others that will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and build immunity against the virus.

The university doesn't mandate a COVID-vaccine at this time, but the vaccines' presumed approvals from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is on the horizon.

Currently, the Pfizer, Moderna and J&J vaccines have emergency authorization and have been deemed safe. The FDA reportedly will give Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine full formal approval by early September, with the other vaccines to go through the approval process at a later date.

"At Xavier, we are encouraging all of our students, faculty and staff to get the COVID vaccination. There is no requirement for now under emergency use but might require after FDA approval," Doug Ruschman, associate vice president for marketing and communications at Xavier, tells CityBeat.

Read Xavier University's COVID-19 guidelines.

UC Health (University of Cincinnati) and Mount St. Joseph University did not respond to CityBeat's emailed requests for comment.

The CDC labels most counties in Kentucky and Ohio that are near Cincinnati as "substantial" or "high risk" for COVID-19. As of Aug. 2, Hamilton County plus Butler, Clermont and Warren counties in Ohio are listed as substantial. In Kentucky, Boone County is listed as high risk, while the risk in Kenton and Campbell counties is labeled as substantial.

As CityBeat has previously reported, the majority of counties throughout the rest of Kentucky are high risk, the CDC's highest level.

The Delta variant of the coronavirus has been responsible for the sharp uptick in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, and scientists warn that this strain is much more dangerous than Alpha, the original virus. People infected with Delta carry 1,000 times more of the virus, which makes it easier to transmit among others when speaking, singing, sneezing or breathing hard, particularly within indoor areas. Health experts say that Delta is more than twice as easy to spread than Alpha.

Unvaccinated individuals are at the highest risk for severe infection and substantial health issues, experts say, though some vaccinated individuals have also become infected due to Delta's highly contagious nature. Symptoms and rates are less severe in individuals who are fully vaccinated with a Pfizer, Moderna or J&J COVID-19 vaccine, though. According to the CDC, a “fully vaccinated” person is one who is two weeks past their second dose of a two-dose vaccine (Pfizer and Moderna) or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine (J&J).

COVID-19 vaccines are not yet authorized for people age 11 and younger.


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