COVID Watch: Next Week Could See Masking Changes
The following message regarding possible changes to indoor masking requirements was sent to the Drexel community.
- The COVID-19 pandemic continues to come to our region in waves that may occasionally impact routines.
- The City of Philadelphia is considering whether current case data supports moving to Response Level 2 with implementation of an indoor masking requirement. The City could issue a decision as early as Monday, April 11.
- Drexel has not experienced a major increase in COVID-19 cases thus far following spring break.
- If the city returns to indoor masking, Drexel must do the same, requiring mask-wearing in all shared indoor spaces.
- Be optimistic and be prepared.
Dear Drexel Students and Colleagues,
While we are not yet making changes, Drexel is keeping an eye on the latest COVID-19 case data in the Philadelphia area, driven by Omicron subvariant BA.2. The Philadelphia Health Department has published COVID response levels and actions and data suggests the city may soon move to Level 2 which includes mask precautions. Depending on city guidance early next week, it is possible that we will have to alter our guidelines related to indoor masking. In the meantime, please continue to follow existing guidelines and be on the alert for further communications from the University. More information is below.
COVID-19 Cases Increasing Regionally
With the increasing prevalence of the BA.2 Omicron subvariant, Philadelphia’s COVID case counts have risen in the past ten days. Based on data from this week, the City will likely make its determination early next week as to whether to require indoor masking once again in public spaces and businesses. If the City decides to do so, Drexel will follow suit, making mask-wearing required in most indoor on-campus areas for the time being. If Philadelphia decides that current case levels or hospitalizations do not warrant an indoor mask mandate, Drexel will maintain its current two-tiered mask-wearing system (masks must be worn in classes, health care settings and on the shuttle).
The full impact of Omicron BA.2 is yet to be determined, but we expect that most cases will be milder, with a lower rate of serious illness and hospitalization than earlier in the pandemic. However, increased contagiousness means this subvariant spreads more easily, and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health has already recommended that people “strongly consider” wearing a mask in indoor public spaces.
Drexel Remains Lower-Risk but with Reason for Caution
Drexel is cautious but optimistic regarding any future changes. We are a highly vaccinated, responsible community with excellent testing and contact tracing protocols in place and have come so far in the last two years. We pay close attention to ventilation which meets or exceeds ASHRE standards in our spaces and enhance air exchange where needed. Face masks have been shown to markedly reduce risk of infection to the wearer and to others around them, and while risk assessment is increasingly left to individuals, we make decisions based on ourselves and others. At this time, any additional requirements would be instituted in response to City directives. We anticipate that overall, we will continue the trend of allowing more individual decision-making about pandemic-related risk.
Testing among our campus community at the start of term revealed a relatively low rate of COVID positivity among returning students. However, we have seen a slight uptick in Drexel community members getting tested due to respiratory illness. Although many of these cases are unrelated to COVID, COVID case counts also increased slightly this week stemming from off-campus social gatherings rather than classroom or workplace exposures. This further highlights the increase in Omicron BA.2 transmission in our region.
Please take sensible precautions including staying home if you feel sick, wearing a mask at social events where there are many people and continuing to get tested if you experience common symptoms of COVID, even if you think it might be allergies or a cold.
Be Optimistic, Be Prepared
Two years of experience, scientific advances and knowledge of COVID-19 has taught us much. Hopefully pandemic waves will soon lessen. In the meantime, living our lives in the context of new disease risk need not stop us. We know what to do:
- Get boosted if you haven’t yet. In addition, the CDC has released new guidance for certain individuals to obtain a second booster dose of vaccine. This guidance is optional, and Drexel does not require a second booster for any students nor employees. However, if you are within one of the eligible groups, you can obtain a second booster dose at Drexel’s vaccination sites or retail pharmacies near you.
- Make sure you have well-fitting, high filtration face masks. Lost your mask? You can request a KN95 and/or KF94 high filtration mask at Hagerty Library, DAC, Recreation Center, Main Building Lobby, Kline School of Law, New College Building lobby, the Queen Lane security desk and at Drexel’s COVID testing centers; the federal government is also making free N95 masks available.
- When in doubt, test. Even if your test results are clear, make sure to wear a mask around other people if you’re not feeling well. Have a supply of at-home COVID tests for additional self-monitoring ability. You can order free COVID tests online through the U.S. government. In addition, many insurance companies also reimburse for up to 8 home tests per month. Please check with your insurance company for details as there are different requirements for each.
We’ll Be in Touch with Updates
As well as reaching out by email, we’ll always post the latest COVID safety updates on our Response to Coronavirus site. Have a burning question that can’t wait? Email ROC@Drexel.edu.
Please stay tuned and take good care,
Marla J. Gold, MD
Chief Wellness Officer
Senior Vice Provost for Community Health
Janet Cruz, MD
Director, Student Health Services