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Public Health Concerns and PLU Community Updates

Posted by:
July 29, 2022

Dear PLU Community,

As we continue to engage in the long game of responding as a community to multiple coexisting public health concerns, I am writing to update you on two specific concerns that may be on your mind: COVID-19 variants and the emergence of monkeypox in Washington State.

First, I’ll provide some reminders and information about current COVID-19 protocols on campus, and then I’ll provide some summary information about monkeypox and our responses that continue to be developed in collaboration with Tacoma–Pierce County Public Health.

Fall 2022 COVID-19 Campus Protocols

  • Vaccination reminder: PLU is classified as a fully vaccinated campus, due to our requirement that all students and employees must be vaccinated unless they have been approved for vaccine exemption. Vaccinated students or those interested in requesting exemption will find directions for submitting vaccine records or exemption paperwork on the Health Center Documents and Forms webpage. (Fully vaccinated = completion of initial vaccine series; up to date = all recommended boosters have been received.) New employees should submit their vaccination or exemption documentation through Human Resources.
  • Testing: Students and employees coming to campus for the first time or after being away are strongly encouraged to participate in COVID PCR or antigen testing prior to their arrival. If positive, students should not come to campus and should communicate with the Health Center to discuss their positive results and isolation timeline. Employees who test positive should communicate with their supervisors and report their positive test to Human Resources.
  • COVID testing continues to be available on campus. The Health Center will provide testing for students who exhibit COVID-related symptoms or who have been exposed to COVID. The Curative kiosk in the Health Center parking lot continues to be available on weekdays — click here to schedule — with PCR testing for symptomatic and exposed students and employees. We also strongly encourage all students and employees to stock several at-home rapid antigen tests to ensure easy access to testing when it is needed.
  • Masking: Based on current case numbers in Pierce County, masking indoors is recommended but not required. Masking on campus as a requirement or a recommendation is determined by guidance from the Tacoma–Pierce County Health Department (TPCHD) and the CDC. How this decision is determined can be found here. If determining factors increase, we will alert campus that indoor masking has become a requirement. (That eventuality would likely be short-term, lasting only until numbers drop again.)
  • Care for suspected and positive cases:
    • Based on current guidance from our partners at TPCHD, there has been no change to the required five days of isolation for a positive case, followed by five days of masking when around other people.
    • Students who develop symptoms of or test positive for COVID must contact the Health Center for guidance on the management of their case. PLU will continue to offer a limited number of on-campus isolation spaces for students who test positive; students may also opt to isolate in an off-campus space.
    • Employees should inform their supervisor if they are unable to work due to exposure, illness, or a positive case.
    • This flowchart remains an excellent source of direction for COVID questions.

Employees should reach out to Human Resources, and students to the Health Center, if they have any further COVID-related concerns or questions. As monkeypox becomes an emerging concern, we are also preparing to respond to the possibility of a case occurring in our campus community.

Monkeypox Overview and Campus Protocols

  • What is monkeypox? Monkeypox is a rare virus related to the smallpox and chickenpox viruses and is endemic to several sub-Saharan countries. It has appeared in briefly occurring clusters in Europe and the US, but never to the current level. Monkeypox is transmitted primarily by skin-to-skin and sexual contact (though it is not classified as a sexually transmitted infection). The current outbreak in the US is presenting with symptoms that include a rash of small lesions that grow in size; fatigue; and swollen lymph nodes. This CDC resource provides further detail with additional links.
  • Monkeypox FAQs: We have gathered some FAQs from various websites that will provide further helpful information on monkeypox risk factors, transmission, and symptoms.
  • Monkeypox in Pierce County: To date, there have been three confirmed cases of monkeypox, in unrelated individuals, within Pierce County. In an effort to stay abreast of this growing public health emergency (now defined as such by the World Health EOrganization), we are in close contact with TPCHD to determine an appropriate initial campus and Health Center response. This link will take you to the TPCHD announcements related to monkeypox, and we strongly encourage all of our PLU community to be as informed as possible about this virus and its associated symptoms and risk factors.
  • Care for suspected and positive cases:
    • Students who have concerns about possible monkeypox symptoms and/or are uncertain of potential exposure to monkeypox should call the Health Center (253-535-7337), their healthcare provider, or an urgent care clinic to determine whether, how, and where to be evaluated and tested. PLU has a limited number of isolation spaces for students who are waiting for test results. Having tested positive, individuals are required to remain in isolation until all pox lesions have healed fully and healthy skin is present at all lesion sites.
    • Employees should consult with their healthcare providers and communicate with Human Resources if directed to isolate because of a suspected or confirmed case.

I understand that the monkeypox outbreak comes at a time when we are all still recovering — emotionally, physically, and financially — from the COVID pandemic, and that many of you have already suffered losses on many levels. I also know how strong and resilient the PLU community is, and I’m very hopeful that providing you with this information will give you the resources you need to continue to make careful, safe choices about your social and health behaviors.

In community,

Elizabeth Hopper, MN, ARNP
Health Center Director