Q&A: Gillian Ice Explains COVID-19 College Operations, What Students Should Expect This Semester
Gillian ice cream, the president’s special assistant for public health operations, has been helping Ohio University tackle the COVID-19 pandemic head-on since her appointment in August 2020.
Ice’s work includes overseeing case management, coordinating the university’s COVID-19 response, and communicating with the OU and the Athens community on the status of infections and health initiatives. .
The post office sat down with Ice to discuss the university’s plan to mitigate COVID-19 infections this spring and recommendations for students as they navigate the ongoing pandemic on campus.
The Post: What has the university maintained in its COVID-19 operations this semester, and is there anything new being implemented?
Ice: The same metrics we used for delta, alpha, beta, the original strain, work against omicron when applied consistently. We’ve always taken a tiered approach… We keep doing the testing, which is really important, so that we can quickly isolate and quarantine people. We have increased… and slightly modified our mask requirements. We know that because omicron is so transmissible, the better the mask, the more likely it is to prevent transmission. We continue to trace contacts, quickly isolate, and quarantine. We try to focus on distance as much as possible, avoiding big crowds, that sort of thing. So it’s the same measures… but we’re trying to fine-tune so that we can really double these same prevention measures, that’s for sure.
TP: How do you feel in terms of preparation and expectations for this coming semester?
Ice: It’s a difficult question to answer, actually. I mean, in some ways I’ve been on this for, I don’t know, about 16 months. So at least I have the experience to draw on, and we’ve learned from previous outbreaks what works (and) what doesn’t. And not just me, but my entire management team and our contact tracers – we know a lot more – so I feel a little more comfortable going in there. Cases right now, we already have a very large influx of cases. The vast majority of them haven’t left home yet, and they are reporting their positive tests which is good, so we make sure they come back when they are supposed to and not sooner. Compared to (the) fall, it’s a much higher number of people, as we expected. But it’s a bit overwhelming just looking at the volume of people who are affected by COVID right now.
TP: Have staffing levels increased, especially in anticipation of more contact searches this semester?
Ice: We are losing staff just because people have left for permanent jobs. So what we have done is we have … our “strike team”. These are teams coming in, especially around peak capacity, and we’ve asked them to expand to increase their hours. We’re reaching out to units on campus that have staff who may be willing to work a few extra hours to help us… and we’re also hiring extra part-time people to do that. We have also taken some steps to deal with cases – what we call “emergency treatment” – so that we can move forward a little faster. So as soon as someone submits an incident report or knows they are affected by COVID, we send them a letter and … with immediate instructions and knowing that there might be a delay before we can. contact. But at least he gives them immediate instructions. So a bunch of internal staff reassignments and so on so that we can work as efficiently as possible.
TP: Has the university planned or planned any other in-person events this spring?
Ice: The plan is to continue the events that we had already planned, with a constant eye on the situation and seeking, wherever we can, to change these events so that they are a little more secure. I really encouraged, especially housing and residence living… to really think about the types of… outdoor activities that people can do because it’s safer, and I hope they will rise to the challenge . It’s cold, but there are some amazing hikes in Athens County, right. There are great things you can do outdoors that, if you can layer yourself in a proper way, are safer. And so, we’ll try to focus on that sort of thing as well.
TP: What does the availability of tests look like for this semester?
Ice: Because we anticipate a lot of broadcast on campus … we are actually amplifying our tests, at least for the month of January. What we’ve learned from the past flare-ups we’ve had in the last 16 months or so is that they tend to last between four and six weeks with major transmission and then go down to a point. We don’t know how the omicron will land, and we also have delta in circulation, so we don’t know if that time frame will hold, but we expect it. So the first four to six weeks, we will increase the availability of the tests.
TP: The university said it was changing masking requirements for the spring semester. Are Triple Surgical Masks High Filtration Qualified?
Ice: I don’t think this is technically considered high filtration, but it is permissible. We would like people to do the KN95. They are all high filtration masks. But surgical masks are fine. Just be very careful to make sure they fit properly. We do not recommend that people use homemade masks, although you can make a surgical mask and a homemade mask together. It actually improves the fit of the surgical mask if you put the mask on. We want students to stay in class. We want them to have their college experience and the more we do to protect each other, the better everyone will be able to stay safe and in college, in the classroom, all the time.