Habif reports 238 COVID-19 cases from the start of the semester

| Senior News Editor

EG.5, the new Omicron variant, has led to a surge in COVID-19 cases throughout the Washington University community.

The Habif Health and Wellness Center has reported 238 COVID-19 cases since the start of the Fall 2023 semester, according to Executive Director Dr. Cheri LeBlanc. This number excludes students who tested positive for COVID-19 and didn’t make Habif aware of their results.

LeBlanc said that the surge is not expected to continue throughout the fall and winter. 

“There will be various times throughout the year when we will see an ebb and flow of [COVID-19] cases,” she said. “I expect this current surge to cool down soon.”

Kirk Dougher, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, said in an Undergraduate Student Affairs Advisory Board meeting that the number of new COVID-19 cases reported by Habif is decreasing each day. 

Current isolation protocols are similar to those from last year. 

“Students need to isolate for five days,” LeBlanc said. “If their symptoms are improving or they no longer have a fever, they may end isolation, but [they must] remain masked while around others for another five days. If they are still quite sick at five days, they need to isolate longer”

LeBlanc said that students with chronic illnesses — such as those with cystic fibrosis, severe asthma, and diabetes — should reach out to Habif for medical care and isolation guidelines.

“We especially want to hear from students with serious medical conditions…so [that] we can prescribe Paxlovid and monitor their conditions carefully,” she said. 

Many WashU students feel that missing class to self-quarantine is difficult in 2023. Synchronous virtual attendance options (such as Zoom) for students who test positive for COVID-19 are limited. Classroom policies for accommodating students with COVID-19 vary between courses, undergraduate schools, and professors.

“A lot of professors are less accommodating now for COVID-19-related absences than they were two years ago,” senior Lilli Greiner said. “It puts a lot of pressure on students to catch up on homework and lectures.”

Students also feel that Habif’s discontinuation of free COVID-19 tests has made this current surge more difficult to handle.

Senior Avery McCammon said that making students pay to get tested for COVID-19 discourages them from doing so.

“Many students will have to choose between spending $20 per COVID-19 test or not testing and continuing to go to class with symptoms, potentially spreading COVID-19 to other people,” she said. “Free testing is important so [that] students don’t have to prioritize saving money over the well-being of themselves and others.”

According to LeBlanc, the University decided to end free COVID-19 testing after reviewing CDC predictions and consulting with infectious disease experts at the end of the Spring 2023 semester. Also, the bulk of Habif’s COVID-19 tests expired in August 2023. COVID-19 Antigen (Ag) rapid tests are currently sold at Habif.

To protect themselves and others amidst the surge, students should “stay home if [they] are sick; use an Ag test; and, if it is positive, contact Habif,” LeBlanc said. 

“If you have been exposed, please wear a mask while around others for 10 days after your last exposure, and get an Ag test any time you have symptoms and at five days post-exposure,” LeBlanc added. “Limit large indoor gatherings and increase the ventilation in indoor spaces by opening windows as much as possible, until the surge recedes.”

Students can also expect a new COVID-19 booster vaccine, which is expected to target EG.5 and other XBB.1.5 strains, to be released soon.

For now, Dougher said that he wants students to be mindful of how they can avoid spreading COVID-19 to others in the WashU community.

“I am hopeful that students will continue to consider ways in which they might mitigate the campus risk by wearing masks, having more outdoor interactions if possible, and being thoughtful about the environments [that] they are in,” he said.

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