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New Vigilance in 4 Maryland Behaviors Urged Amid Rise of COVID Variants

By Maryland Today Staff

University Health Center Director Dr. Spyridon S. Marinopoulos sent the following email to the campus community tonight:

I hope everyone's semester is off to a healthy start. I'm writing today with a few critical updates and reminders, which are detailed within this email.

Main Points

  • Two new, more contagious COVID-19 variants are now present in Maryland, which makes it more important than ever to take all possible safety precautions in order to control the pandemic.
  • Wear a mask at all times around others inside and outside except when you are home by yourself. If you unknowingly have COVID-19, keeping your mask on will help keep you from infecting others. Follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instructions on wearing and caring for your mask.
  • Masking and physical distancing must be used together. Maintain physical distance at all times with anyone who is not a member of your immediate household—even if you are wearing a mask.
  • Avoid gatherings and avoid eating together, as this has been identified as a high-risk activity in spreading the virus. For students who live in a residence hall, fraternity or sorority house, or any group housing, eat your meals in your room with the door closed.
  • Anyone physically coming to campus must get a PCR-based COVID-19 test every two weeks; review the date of your last COVID-19 test and plan ahead.
  • If you have any symptoms, isolate, call the HEAL line (301.405.4325), and come to the University Health Center to be tested.

New Variants
Viruses constantly change through mutation, with new variants of a virus expected to occur over time. Multiple variants of the coronavirus have been documented during this pandemic. Two of the COVID variants, which have been reported in Maryland, seem to spread more easily and quickly, and to be more virulent than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19. An increase in the number of cases will put more strain on health care resources and lead to more hospitalizations, and potentially more deaths. The emergence of these new variants necessitates increased vigilance and strict adherence to the 4 Maryland infection prevention measures.

Wearing Your Mask Effectively
We rely heavily on face masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, and there are some important behaviors we can do to ensure our face coverings are as effective as possible:

  • Check the fit: Your face covering should fit snugly against the sides of your face and cover your nose, mouth, and chin at all times. Make sure you can breathe easily with your face covering on. If you have to adjust your face covering continually, this means that it doesn't fit properly.
  • Keep it clean: Reusable masks, like the TerrapinSTRONG masks, should be washed regularly. It is a good idea to have multiple masks so you can rotate as needed. Throw away a disposable mask after wearing it once. Don't share your masks with others.
  • Stay apart: Masks are not a substitute for physical distancing. Masks must be worn in addition to staying at least 6 feet apart, including while inside and outside, and especially during any activities that require you to remove your mask, like eating.

No matter where you are or who you are with, always model correct mask-wearing behaviors to keep each other safe and encourage others to do the same: cover your mouth and nose, stay 6 feet apart and keep your hands away from your mask and face. TerrapinSTRONG face coverings are available for free at the Stamp Student Union Information Desk.

COVID-19 Testing Requirements
As a reminder, all students, faculty and staff physically coming to campus are required to get a PCR-based COVID-19 test prior to your first arrival and every two weeks throughout the spring semester. Please review the date of your last COVID-19 test and start planning ahead for when your next test will need to take place. Visit return.umd.edu to view available testing dates and times, schedule an on-campus COVID-19 testing appointment, and confirm your results. As we learn more about the spread of the new variants, additional testing may be required.

Please continue to maintain all 4 Maryland precautions after getting tested and remember that a negative test does not mean that you can relax your guard against the virus.

If You Have Symptoms or Test Positive
If you are experiencing any potential COVID-19 symptoms—fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, acute loss of taste or smell, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, new fatigue, muscle aches, runny nose or congestion—please contact the HEAL Line at 301.405.4325 to be screened and get tested at the University Health Center. Don't automatically assume that your symptoms are due to allergies or the common cold.

If you have tested positive for COVID-19 at an off-campus location, please do not visit campus. You must contact the HEAL Line at 301.405.4325 to report your positive test result.
Please also call the HEAL line if you have been a close contact of a positive case. The CDC defines a close contact as anyone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more.

Enhanced Health Precautions
Whenever we see an increase in the number of positive cases in a particular location on campus, as we are currently seeing in LaPlata Hall, anyone who is identified as a close contact with someone who tested positive is notified and placed in quarantine housing; anyone who tests positive will isolate. Members of affected communities will be contacted directly with specific instructions, and must get tested immediately, restrict activities, practice enhanced physical distancing and self-monitor for 10 days. We also add a note to the COVID-19 Dashboard.

COVID-19 Vaccine
Some members of our community who are eligible under state guidelines have begun receiving their COVID-19 vaccine off-campus. As vaccines continue to become available to more of our community, it is important to remember that the vaccine is only one of many steps you can use to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. It is important to still follow all 4 Maryland behaviors even after being vaccinated. Masks, physical distancing, washing your hands and testing every two weeks remain campus expectations for everyone.

We are deeply appreciative that our community understands the importance of following 4 Maryland behaviors to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on our campus. Thank you for your continued commitment to the health and safety of our UMD community.

Be well and stay safe,

Spyridon 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.