This is a very tough time. We caught a glimpse of freedom, of recovery from this pandemic, and now it feels torn from us again. The Delta variant of COVID-19 is a difficult adversary, made more difficult by the political division we are experiencing as a country and as a world. I am disheartened, as I am sure are many of you. I thought I’d use my excerpt this month to talk about what we know about where we are now, what this means for us in the near-term, and where we go from here.
Here’s what we know. Delta is more contagious than previous coronavirus variants. Our vaccines continue to be our absolute best defense against the Delta variant. While we have seen breakthrough cases of COVID in our vaccinated population, COVID is far, far less common in those who are vaccinated and, overwhelmingly, cases that do occur in vaccinated individuals are mild. While we are rapidly moving to a vaccinated campus population, we are not there yet. Moreover, vaccination rates in the larger St Louis region are hovering at about 42% of the total population with 52% of adults fully vaccinated and significant variation by zip code. In addition, a big chunk of our community can’t yet be vaccinated because they are under the age of 12. So, we have a lot of COVID Delta variant spreading in our unvaccinated community, both on and off campus. This has resulted in a rapid rise in cases and a rise in hospitalizations- again, overwhelmingly in those who are unvaccinated.
What can you do? If you are not vaccinated, please, please contact occupational health or make an appointment elsewhere to get vaccinated. Ask your family members and friends to get vaccinated if they aren’t yet. If you want to talk to someone about your concerns about the vaccine, there are a number of people from across the School, medical and non-medical, from a variety of backgrounds, who would be happy to talk to you- pick someone you trust. Wear a mask indoors whenever you are not alone or eating. When you are unmasked indoors, including while eating, try to maintain physical distancing of at least 6 feet from others. Spend time outside when you can and when engaging in social events move them outdoors as much as possible. You don’t need to wear a mask when outdoors, but avoid crowded gatherings if you can or wear a mask if you can’t reliably create distance between you and others who may be unvaccinated. Wash your hands before you eat or put things in your mouth, nose or eyes.
How can you stay emotionally healthy? Exercise, eat right, and get enough sleep- seriously important and easier said than done. If you or the people you love are struggling with anxiety or depression, know you are not alone. Ask for help, please, please don’t suffer in silence. We have wonderful resources available to support you and your family through this difficult time- please access them. If you have school-aged children, there is basically no way you can’t be stressed. There are so many unanswered questions about how schools will function and what this will mean for you as we come back to campus. That uncertainty is so, so difficult. Please know we all know that we will need to be flexible as we come back. Human Resources has and continues to work hard on expanding child care resources including expansion of back up care, increased slots in day care, and the addition of a terrific child and family care facilitator. Finally, take time for you- you cannot take care of others if you do not take care of yourself. It’s just true.
Going into the fall, we will have the ability to be together on campus in classrooms, labs, and in the office. We will still be able to have some events, but they may not look like they used to. This is better, but it’s not what we hoped for. We have demonstrated a remarkable ability to pivot, respond, and keep our Wash U community safe. This is really hard. And we CAN and WILL get through this together.