What is the COVID-19 delta variant, and how does it differ from other strains?
OU Chief COVID Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler said the delta variant is a mutated form of SARS-CoV-2. The variant is more contagious than other strains due to its heightened efficiency at attaching to the Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 receptor — an enzyme that permits infection with COVID-19, according to a study in Australia. Bratzler said those infected with the delta variant carry 1,000 to 1,200 more viral load compared to infection with the alpha variant — the first variant to spread widely, according to Science Magazine.
“If you happen to be close to somebody that's shedding the virus, and you breathe it in, you're likely to get infected, because the virus is very effective at attaching to human receptors,” Bratzler said. “It’s kind of the perfect storm.”
Which groups are most affected by the delta variant?
While younger age groups are contracting the virus at a higher rate than older age groups, the delta variant affects all age groups equally, Bratzler said. He said younger people are infected more than older people due to lower vaccination rates. According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s Weekly Epidemiology and Surveillance Report, 35.6 percent of Oklahomans ages 18-24 have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine compared to 53 percent of Oklahomans ages 45-54 and 61.5 percent of Oklahomans ages 55-64, as of last week.
Why are people hesitant to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?
Rumors that the vaccine is unsafe or ineffective may prevent people from receiving the vaccine. According to Bratzler, the usual process of the US Food and Drug Administration approval — which typically takes a year — has concerned some, even though the efficacy and safety data has been reviewed. On Aug. 23, the FDA approved the first COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer.
Bratzler also said young and college-age individuals may feel “invincible” from the virus. While they’re less likely to be hospitalized or experience serious complications from the disease, the risk is not zero, Bratzler said. Similarly, college students who were infected with COVID-19 may feel as if they don’t need the vaccine due to their prior infection, but that is not as effective as vaccination, according to Bratzler.
In reference to rumors concerning alleged infertility due to the vaccine, Bratzler said the vaccines have extensive studies showing no adverse impacts, and a number of vaccinated women have gotten pregnant.
Does the COVID-19 vaccine protect against the delta variant?
Fully vaccinated people can still contract COVID-19 and pass it from person to person, but the vaccine decreases one’s risk of experiencing complications and hospitalization due to the virus, Bratzler said.
Where can one receive the COVID-19 vaccine?
Vaccines will continue to be administered in the Goddard Health Center with no out-of-pocket fees, according to an email to The Daily. Fees will be billed to one’s insurance, if available. Uninsured patients will not be charged.
Where can one get tested for COVID-19?
COVID-19 testing is available for students, faculty and staff at OU Health Services, located at 620 Elm Ave. OU Health Services is no longer offering free COVID-19 testing, which may be fully or partially covered by the individual’s insurance, according to a university spokesperson. Charges will be based on the type of test that is performed.
Previously, the cost of testing was covered by the Coronavirus, Relief and Economic Security Act using federal funds through the Oklahoma State Department of Health. The CARES Act expired on Dec. 26, 2020, eliminating the “readily available” funding for COVID-19 testing. According to a university spokesperson, OU is “actively exploring” expanding testing options for the OU community. Individuals experiencing symptoms and unable to test “should isolate from campus and others for 10 days” and may return on day 11 if they’re no longer experiencing symptoms.
What are OU’s masking and social distancing policies?
OU strongly encourages masking indoors and in high-density settings, such as classrooms and at special events, according to an OU spokesperson. The university eliminated its social distancing protocols in all areas except patient care and clinical research patient settings.
According to a university spokesperson, the university requires masking for all individuals in patient-facing settings, including clinical research participant areas and facilities and areas where patient care is the primary function. Masking is also required on transit buses and shuttles in compliance with Department of Transportation mandates.
OU Senior Vice President and Provost André-Denis Wright announced Monday if a student in a class tests positive for COVID-19, that class can continue to meet in person but must wear masks for two weeks. Students must report their positive COVID-19 test using the Healthy Together COVID-19 passport, where they'll receive screening results and next-step instructions.
Can professors require masking in their classrooms?
In accordance with Oklahoma Senate Bill 658, which prevents certain entities — such as a board of education of a public or technology center school district, the board of regents of an institution within the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education, the governing board of a private postsecondary educational institution, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education and the State Board of Education or Career and Technology — from implementing a mask mandate for students not vaccinated against COVID-19, OU is prohibited from requiring masks, according to a university spokesperson.
However, a group of OU Law faculty compiled a report before the fall semester stating Senate Bill 658 does not prohibit OU or its departments and faculty from requiring masking. The report states the bill only prohibits OU from adopting narrow mask mandates targeting unvaccinated students.
“It does not purport to ban broader masking requirements regardless of vaccination status, such as masking requirements at athletic press conferences or in classrooms and faculty offices,” the report read.
In an email, Joseph Thai, a former law clerk for Justices John Paul Stevens and Byron White of the Supreme Court and Judge David Ebel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, now teaches constitutional law and the Supreme Court at OU, wrote he is “not aware” Gov. Kevin Stitt has the authority to regulate OU or other higher education institutes.
Similarly, although the executive order does not include a definition of “government service,” Oklahoma House Minority Leader Emily Virgin (D-Norman) said there is an argument to be made that this bill is directed more toward state agencies who provide licenses and records, rather than a university. Since its passage, she said she has not seen the state take measures to enforce the order.
Considering the pandemic, can professors require attendance?
According to a university spokesperson, professors are encouraged to use flexible attendance policies that allow students to miss class if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, documented or otherwise.
What safety measures are being taken in on-campus housing?
OU Housing has a Resident Care Plan to assist OU Housing residents with information to minimize the potential spread of COVID-19 within the community, according to a university spokesperson. The plan includes resident responsibilities, such as frequently washing hands, instructions for residents exposed to the virus and a self-isolation plan.
Which on-campus restaurants will be open?
A university spokesperson said before the fall semester that OU Food Services plans to open all on-campus restaurant locations for the academic year on a phased schedule. According to the OU Director of Marketing and Communications Amy Buchanan, OU Food Services is facing “staffing challenges that are being seen in other areas of the foodservice industry nationwide” due to COVID-19. Information regarding opening dates can be found on the OU Housing and Food Services website.