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Emory experts provide information and guidance on staying safe through COVID-19 and other illnesses
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Over the past few years, Emory experts have worked diligently to communicate critical updates to the campus community regarding COVID-19. Delivering these updates remains a priority during the fall 2023 semester, as there continue to be surges and changes in the respiratory illness.

Top health experts and administrators from across the university have important notes and reminders to keep everyone — from students and health care workers to faculty and staff — safe in the last months of 2023 and beyond. As COVID-19 infections continue across Emory campuses and concerns about the imminent flu season begin to mount, several updates and reminders impact community members.

COVID-19: Refreshers, news and more

The world is more than three years beyond when COVID-19 first changed the lives of everyone. It may be easy to forget that the pandemic is still affecting people, since many have moved back to life as normal.

Chief resilience officer Amir St. Clair encourages everyone to remember that COVID-19 is still prevalent, and it will continue to be in the near future.

“COVID is still here and continues to circulate,” says St. Clair. “We’re just coming off a surge within our community, and we’ll likely have another increase as we get closer to the holidays. We’ve seen these seasonal patterns of COVID-19 surges across the past three years.”

Not only will COVID-19 continue to be a relevant part of our lives, says St. Clair, but we are currently reckoning with a new variant of the illness.  

“As new variants pop up, it requires us to evaluate and better understand how each variant impacts disease severity and infection prevention controls,” says St. Clair.

Flu season and COVID-19

In addition to staying informed about COVID-19 updates, it’s equally important to remain knowledgeable about steps to mitigate flu, as it is likely that surges in the two illnesses will coincide, like previous years.

“We’ve always gone through a flu surge each year. Some are greater than others. We don’t know exactly what this year is going to look like, so that’s why it is so important to be vigilant and aware of the prevalence of flu,” says Sharon Rabinovitz, MD, executive director of Emory Student Health Services.

Though COVID-19 and flu are two distinct illnesses, Rabinovitz advises that the approach to precautions for each of them is similar. Previous years of experiencing the two together should serve as guidance.

“The important thing is to really utilize the knowledge that we’ve gained. It works for flu and it works for COVID-19, so it’s important that we have the tools to manage it better as a community,” says Rabinovitz. “We just have to be vigilant and understand the prevalence of what’s circulating at the time so we can respond appropriately.”

Follow four steps to stay safe

1. Get your updated COVID-19 and flu vaccines.

Emory University strongly encourages all community members stay up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccinations, according to guidance from the CDC. An updated vaccine was approved and authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in September and is strongly recommended for everyone ages six months or older.

Carlos del Rio, MD, noted how crucial this new vaccine is to responding to evolving variants. He serves as a distinguished professor of medicine, epidemiology and global health, interim dean of the School of Medicine and interim chief academic officer at Emory Healthcare.

“This vaccine is not a booster. This is updating your immunity to a new variant,” says del Rio. “These vaccines are really good at protecting you against severe disease, death and hospitalization, especially people with higher risks.”

Community members can get both their updated COVID-19 vaccine and their yearly flu vaccine at the same time, confirmed Jodie Guest, PhD, MPH, professor and senior vice chair of the Department of Epidemiology at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health.

“Last year, we had many people get the COVID-19 and flu vaccines at the same time,” says Guest. “Side effects and information from people who received them together were tracked and showed no issues, helping us know these are safe to get together.”

2. Self-monitor your health.

Preventing the spread of COVID-19 starts with a daily check of your health. Before being in contact with others or coming to campus, you should confirm each day that you do not have signs or symptoms of COVID-19.

“You have to conduct an honest, daily health assessment of any symptoms,” says St. Clair. “That’s really the best tool to help better understand if you’re starting to get sick and then be able to take appropriate action, such as testing or isolation.”

Another important step to monitoring and evaluating your health, according to Rabinovitz, is prioritizing self-care in your routine – especially for students.

“Your immune function is dependent on self-care, your mental health and your physical health,” says Rabinovitz. “It’s important to make sure you’re getting adequate sleep and nutrition. That will keep your immune system functioning optimal.”

For a list of symptoms that are common during COVID-19, see the CDC’s list

3. Follow proper testing and isolation procedures.

If you conduct a daily symptom check and find you are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, you should isolate and get tested.

Emory University follows guidance from the CDC regarding isolation protocols. If you test positive, you should follow all protocols until you have met the criteria for ending isolation.  

Rabinovitz encourages community members to observe the proper testing and isolation guidelines to keep themselves and those around them healthy.

“I think that’s one of the most important things to mitigate spread and to keep our community healthy, is that responsibility that we have to each other when we’re ill and not feeling well,” says Rabinovitz.

4. Keep a mask with you and wear it in appropriate spaces.

On Emory’s campuses, masks are optional indoors in most spaces. Should health indicators change or heightened risks emerge, indoor masks requirements may be reinstated. Anyone who needs to or prefers to wear a mask is encouraged and welcome to do so.

Health professionals advise that a mask is one of the best tools to protect against COVID-19.

“Masks do work. If you’re in a space that you know there is a lot of people who are getting sick or have been getting sick, masks are a tool to prevent infection for ourselves and then mitigate spread,” says Rabinovitz.

Guest advised that a mask should be a commonplace, everyday accessory to have with you. 

“Just like you would have an umbrella available in your car, have a mask in your car, in your backpack or whatever you carry, so you have one if you need it,” says Guest. “Each of these tools — vaccines, testing, masking, staying home when sick — help us live healthy and full lives with COVID still around but not disrupting our lives the way it did in the first couple of years of the pandemic.”

For updated information on Emory’s COVID-19 response this semester and beyond, visit Emory Forward for guidance on vaccines, testing, masking and other resources.

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