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Expert Q&A: Laura Rice on COVID-19, vaccinations and returning to pre-pandemic life

The College of Applied Health Sciences has experts in many research areas. Today, we ask Laura Rice, Interim Director of the Master of Public Health Program, Interim Director, Master of Science in Health Administration Program and Associate Professor, Kinesiology and Community Health, about COVID-19, vaccinations and returning to campus.

Q: Do you think universities should require vaccinations for in-person students?

A: The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, similar to other universities across the United States, are now requiring students to be vaccinated prior to returning to campus for the fall semester. Students with extenuating circumstances may request an exception from this requirement. Given the close living quarters of students and challenges associated with social distancing in residence halls, classrooms and other locations on campus, the vaccination requirement is an important component in keeping students safe and facilitating a return to normal campus life. While precautions should still be taken, vaccination is an important tool to support a safe return to campus in Fall 2022.

Q: How does the current COVID Delta spike in Missouri impact Illinois?

A: Given the increased frequency of the Delta variant in Missouri and other places in the United States, we all must continue to be vigilant in our response to COVID. All individuals should follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which includes getting vaccinated if you are able. If you are not vaccinated, it is critical that people continue to wear masks, social distance, avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, wash your hands, and monitor your health through frequent testing. Everyone should continue to cover their mouth when they sneeze or cough and make sure that high touch surfaces are cleaned frequently. While many of us are facing fatigue adhering to COVID recommendations, it is important to continue to be vigilant and do your part to avoid mandatory quarantine requirements.

Q: How would you persuade those who oppose getting a vaccine to get one?

A: To persuade an individual who is unvaccinated to become vaccinated, it is important to make sure that the individual is fully educated about the safety of the vaccines from reliable, peer reviewed resources. For the example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers evidenced based, easy to understand information regarding vaccine safety. Unfortunately, false information that is circulating on social media and other unreliable sources is causing confusion regarding the safety of vaccines. Educating yourself, and others, from evidenced based sources is critical to understanding the safety of vaccines and making an informed choice regarding vaccination.

Q: Should people still get tested after getting fully vaccinated?

A: After an individual has been vaccinated, they should continue to comply with federal/state and local requirements regarding testing. COVID is still an evolving situation with new variants emerging frequently. Thus far, vaccines have shown to be effective against a variety of variants. However, it is critical that citizens continue to comply with rules and regulations that are implemented regarding testing as the situation is still changing frequently.

Q: Would you recommend still wearing a mask in places where large numbers gather (such as grocery stores, classrooms)?

A: An individual who is fully vaccinated should review peer-reviewed, evidenced-based literature and COVID-19 rates in their local area to make an informed choice regarding mask usage in crowded areas. Review of such information will help the individual who make an informed choice regarding mask use in this evolving situation. If you are in close contact with non-vaccinated individuals or have other medical conditions, mask use will continue to help protect you. Given the evolving nature of the situation, it is important to stay updated on current recommendations from reliable sources and comply with those recommendations.

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