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Post-Thanksgiving COVID-19 update

December 2, 2021
Dear Campus Community,
I am writing with a post-Thanksgiving COVID-19 update. 
As expected, we are seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases following our return to campus after the Thanksgiving holiday. Although we continue to monitor the situation closely, the increase can likely be attributed to travel to different locations during the holiday, as well as more indoor gatherings with family and friends.  This is consistent with an increase in cases with Thanksgiving travel across the U.S. 
Last weekend, a new COVID-19 variant, named “Omicron,” was identified by South African scientists and has since been reported in multiple countries, including a first case reported yesterday in California from an individual who recently returned from South Africa. The available data about Omicron are extremely limited at this time.  Scientists are studying Omicron very closely and are expected to provide more information as it becomes available. 
Here are some things we know based on the information we have available to us at this time:
  • New variants of the virus are expected to occur. Taking measures to reduce the spread of infection, including getting a COVID-19 vaccine and wearing a mask indoors, is the best way to slow the emergence of new variants.
  • Vaccines reduce your risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19.
  • All COVID-19 tests can detect known variants, but they will not tell you which variant you have.
For now, the measures we know are effective against COVID-19 are the measures we must continue to rely on.
  • Wear a KN95 mask. The University has distributed KN95 masks to our campus community. When worn and cared for properly, these masks are extremely effective at stopping 95% of virus transmission. To obtain a KN95 mask, please go to the Stamp Information Desk or work directly with your supervisor. If you have one and are not using it, it is important to begin using it now.
  • Stay home and get tested if you are unwell. If you are feeling sick, get tested for COVID-19 right away. Testing for individuals with symptoms is available at the University Health Center (UHC).  Please don’t go to class or work if you are sick.  
  • Take precautions while traveling. If you are planning international travel in the next few days and weeks, you are strongly cautioned to reconsider your travel plans. Traveling at this time will likely place you at increased risk for contracting the virus. You also run the risk of getting sick and becoming stranded while abroad as many countries are implementing travel related restrictions. If you must travel, please make sure to heed all CDC travel advisories and requirements.
  • Get a booster shot. Although the vaccination rate on our campus remains extremely high, everyone over the age of 18 should get a booster shot. You can get a booster shot at several state locations and local pharmacies. You may search for a vaccination site here.  Although we are still learning about Omicron, we know that a booster shot increases protection against severe illness for many COVID-19 variants.  
Depending on what we learn about Omicron in the coming days, we may need to take additional measures and will keep you informed if we do. 
We are grateful to all of our students, faculty and staff for helping us keep our community safe. Thanks to everyone’s collective efforts, we feel privileged that we have been able to provide a robust in-person campus experience for our students this fall. We appreciate your continued vigilance as we enter the final stretch of the semester.
Be well and stay safe,
Spyridon S. Marinopoulos, MD, MBA, FACP
Director, University Health Center
Chief Medical Officer, University of Maryland
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