Information on COVID Variant BA.5

Summary

  • The BA.5 subvariant of COVID-19 has become dominant across the United States. It is the most contagious form of COVID-19 so far.
  • Vaccination and previous infection provide less protection against BA.5 infection than for other variants; however, vaccination and boosters continue to provide significant protection against serious illness and hospitalization.
  • Drexel’s public health guidelines have not changed at this time. We recommend wearing a mask in all shared indoor spaces when around others (see below), staying up to date on vaccination, and testing with either a campus PCR test or a rapid at-home test if you believe you may be sick.

Dear Drexel Students and Colleagues,

You’ve likely heard in recent days about the prevalence of BA.5, the latest omicron subvariant of COVID-19 to become dominant in the United States. Drexel remains committed to keeping our community safe and healthy, and we recognize that physical, mental, and social health all contribute importantly to the campus community experience. We want to answer some community questions we’ve received and make note of Drexel’s relevant health guidelines.

About BA.5

BA.5 is the most contagious COVID variant to date, driving a new wave of cases across the country, including the Greater Philadelphia region. Antibodies from vaccines and previous COVID infections are offering limited protection against infection with BA.5, meaning that many vaccinated people and those who’ve gotten sick before are at risk of being reinfected. The CDC reports approximately 100,000 cases nationwide, but this is a low estimate because state and local governments are no longer tracking most COVID infections (due to people testing at home rather than at official sites). Drexel recently suspended COVID case reporting on the dashboard as it does not currently provide an accurate picture of infection among our campus community members.

The good news is that vaccines remain effective in preventing an increase in hospitalizations, complications and deaths from BA.5. We are not seeing a drastic increase in patients admitted to the hospital with COVID-19, and national COVID death rates—while still tragically high at more than 300 people each day—are holding relatively steady at this time.

Drexel Guidelines to Note

While Drexel’s public health guidelines are not currently changing, we want to emphasize the importance of wearing a mask and staying up to date on vaccination to reduce the risk to yourself and others.

Masks: For the best protection, wear a well-fitting, high filtration mask (KN95, KF94, N95). If you need a mask, locations to request one include the Hagerty Library, DAC, Recreation Center, Main Building Lobby, Kline School of Law, New College Building lobby, the Queen Lane security desk and University City COVID testing center. The federal government also makes N95 respirator masks available for free; find a location online. We strongly recommend mask-wearing in indoor shared spaces, and continue to require mask-wearing in the following areas on campus:

  • ALL classrooms, laboratories and studios that are being used for lectures or instructional purposes.
  • All health care facilities—including, but not limited to: Student Health Services, Occupational Health Services and the Counseling Center.
  • All health care rotations (College of Nursing and Health Professions, College of Medicine and co-op health care positions).
  • Disability Resources testing spaces.
  • Ticketed Drexel events in Mandell and the Urban Annex Black Box Theaters, and the 418 Main Dance Studio (attendees must mask).

Vaccination and Boosters: Students, faculty and professional staff must be fully vaccinated to spend time on campus, unless Drexel has granted you a vaccine exemption for a documented medical or religious reason. In addition, we strongly recommend booster shots for those who are eligible. Almost everyone is eligible for at least one booster, and several at-risk groups are recommended to receive a second booster shot as well. Staying up to date on your COVID vaccination will still reduce infection risk, help lessen your risk for serious illness if you do contract COVID-19 and help prevent Long COVID or post-COVID conditions. If you wish to schedule a booster shot, you can do so through Student Health (call 215-220-4700) or at a retail pharmacy near you. We know that adults over 50 years old who are eligible to receive a booster now will still be able to get a more targeted Omicron booster this fall.

Testing: Drexel’s testing sites have reduced hours during July. Please consider using rapid at-home antigen tests for additional testing needs—you can find them at local pharmacies or order them for free.

If You Are Sick or Exposed: Follow the procedures outlined here. When in doubt, take steps to minimize contact with others. On-campus students should report exposures, positive tests, or development of symptoms related to COVID-19 through the Drexel Health Checker or email COVIDtracing@Drexel.edu. Employees should contact covid19health@drexel.edu if you receive a positive test result.

COVID-related policies and protocols for the Fall quarter will be communicated separately in the upcoming weeks.

Thank you for taking care, and we hope you are enjoying your summer!

Sincerely,

Marla J. Gold, MD
Chief Wellness Officer
Senior Vice Provost for Community Health

Alicia Tucker, MD
Interim Director, Drexel Student Health