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Continued Vigilance Against COVID Urged; Vaccine Signups Encouraged as Eligibility Expands

By Maryland Today Staff

Dr. Spyridon S. Marinopoulos, University Health Center director, sent the following email to the campus community this afternoon.

As we are all returning from Spring Break, I am writing to provide you with an update regarding COVID-19.

Now is the time to remain vigilant to stop the spread of the virus. Cases are rising in several states, including Maryland. Moreover, several variants of concern are currently circulating in the United States and are expected to spread with the increase in travel across state lines. The B117 variant in particular, which is known to be 50% more infectious and also more virulent than the original virus, is predicted to soon become the dominant strain.

In short, we are facing a race against time. This is a critical time to redouble our efforts to avoid another resurgence of the virus while we work to get everyone in our community vaccinated. We must maintain our diligence and keep up our guard so our patience and hard work will continue to pay off.

As outlined in my email before the break, all students living in residence halls and all students who have traveled are required to submit a negative PCR test result within 72 hours prior to returning to campus post-Spring Break and must have a follow-up PCR test as soon as possible upon returning. Please do not return to campus until you have received and submitted a negative result.

Given the incubation period of the virus and the anticipated increase in spread after Spring Break, it is also critical that you refrain from all non-essential in-person activities while on campus during the first two weeks after your return. Keep six feet of distancing at all times. Wash your hands. Wear a mask at all times when in the presence of others. And, if you develop any symptoms, stay home and call the HEAL line.

While enjoying the nice weather outside, do so safely by maintaining 4 Maryland healthy behaviors. Please be reminded that failure to follow our stated expectations will result in sanctions for all community members. Compliance is non-negotiable as we take the health of our community very seriously.

COVID-19 vaccine distribution and eligibility
The good news is that, as the B117 and other variants have been spreading across the United States, vaccine supply is also becoming more available. Gov. Larry Hogan has announced that the state of Maryland will be accelerating phased vaccine distribution with the eligibility criteria changing significantly starting this week. The new phases of eligibility are:

  • March 23—Phase 2a: Age 60 and older
  • March 30—Phase 2b: Age 16 and older with high-risk medical conditions
  • April 13—Phase 2c: Age 55 and older plus essential workers in food services, construction, financial services, transportation and utilities
  • April 27—Phase 3: All people age 16 and older

Please know that if you qualify in phases 1a-c and have not been able to get a vaccine yet, you will still be prioritized for getting a vaccine over individuals in later phases of the rollout.

The University of Maryland is encouraging all students, faculty and staff to sign up for the vaccine as soon as you become eligible at any available vaccination site.

COVID-19 vaccine information
There are currently three safe and effective vaccines available to administer in the United States (Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson); you can learn more about them at the CDC website. Receiving the vaccine is key to protecting yourself and others from getting sick and helping end the COVID-19 pandemic, and we strongly encourage everyone to receive the vaccine.

Vaccine scheduling has become easier recently, and there is an expected substantial increase in supply of the vaccines by the end of March. However, please be aware that it may become more difficult to schedule a vaccine again as more people become eligible over the next few weeks. Here are some tips:

  • There is now a central sign-up site for the state-run mass vaccination clinics in Maryland where you can pre-register for the vaccine.
  • Prince George's County currently operates several community vaccination sites for which you can pre-register.

UMD does not currently have vaccines to administer on campus. Our Vaccine Task Force has worked unceasingly since November and we are prepared to receive and deliver vaccines in arms as soon as they become available to us. We are hopeful that we may receive vaccines as supply becomes more plentiful, but this is unknown at this time. In the meantime, please sign up to receive the vaccine at one of the sites listed above.

Expectations after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine
As the number of vaccinations has increased within our community, we have received questions about whether our existing protocols and requirements continue to apply to individuals who have been vaccinated.

Recent CDC guidance suggests that fully vaccinated individuals may gather indoors with other fully vaccinated individuals without wearing a mask. However, these guidelines are not meant to apply to public places, such as UMD facilities. Until we know more about the science of how the virus spreads, the CDC recommends continuing to take precautions, "like wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart from others, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces" even after getting vaccinated. In addition, the CDC continues to recommend testing after receiving the vaccine. Therefore, anyone who receives a vaccine must continue to follow the 4 Maryland protocols and adhere to testing requirements.

As we have throughout the entire pandemic, we will adjust protocols as appropriate given the prevalence of the virus within our community. While the COVID-19 vaccines offer the promise of a return to more normal operations both on and off campus, I ask that everyone please continue to be diligent. Thank you all for your continued partnership through the pandemic.

Stay safe and be well,

Spyridon S. Marinopoulos signature

Spyridon S. Marinopoulos, MD, MBA, FACP
Director, University Health Center
Chief Medical Officer, University of Maryland

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Strategic Communications for the University of Maryland community weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.