UChicago outlines steps to help limit spread of new COVID-19 variants

Editor’s note: This message was sent to members of the campus community on Feb. 10 from Katie Callow-Wright, the executive vice president of the University, and Assoc. Prof. Emily Landon, executive medical director for infection prevention and control at the University of Chicago Medicine.

We are writing today to outline important steps the University is taking, and requiring, in response to new COVID-19 variants that may spread more easily than other strains.

The coronavirus strains of concern include variant B.1.1.7, first identified in the United Kingdom; variant B.1.351, first identified in South Africa; and variant P.1, first identified in travelers from Brazil, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While research is ongoing to understand these variants, evidence suggests that the B.1.1.7 strain and perhaps others are able to spread more quickly and more easily than earlier variants of the virus. All these variants have now been detected in the U.S., and warrant precautions to limit their spread on our campus and in surrounding communities; two of these actions are described below.

Face Coverings

Effective immediately, the University requires everyone on campus to wear a face covering that fully covers their nose and mouth and has ear loops to securely hold it in place. The face covering should fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face and allow for breathing without restrictions. It is not sufficient to wear masks that are loose-fitting, such as neck gaiters, bandanas, or scarves, and such coverings do not meet the University’s new requirement. We advise that individuals wear medical masks or multiple-layer cloth masks similar to the ones that have been provided to all students and University employees who are on campus. In order to best protect you from the new coronavirus variants, it is important that face coverings do not have gaps in the nose, sides, or chin, and that you do not drop the face covering below your nose when wearing it. Full details on requirements for face coverings are available on UChicago Forward.

Symptom Monitoring

More than ever, it is essential that all members of our community who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms refrain from contact with others and seek medical advice and/or testing. If you test positive, you must report your diagnosis immediately to C19HealthReport@uchicago.edu so that contract tracing and isolation/quarantine procedures can begin. With the new variants, a person who contracts COVID-19 may become contagious to others more quickly, so recognizing symptoms when they first appear is crucial to preventing the spread of the virus. Fast, reliable, and free testing is available on campus. Faculty, OAAs, postdoctoral researchers and staff should call the UCM triage hotline at 773-702-2800 to arrange a test; students should call UChicago Student Wellness at 773-834-WELL; employees of UCM or the Biological Sciences Division may call 773-702-6819.

Thank you for your continued efforts to promote the health and wellbeing of the University community, including complying with the UChicago Health Pact. We will continue to follow expert guidance on this subject as it develops, and we will update you if any other changes are necessary.