COVID-19 resurges through Atlanta’s college campuses

During the peak of the pandemic in November 2020, students wore masks as they walk while holding a social-distanced conversation outdoors to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. // Photo courtesy of GT COE

On May 11, 2023, the Federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officially called for the Public Health Emergency for COVID-19 to expire. Though the virus is an ongoing health issue, it is no longer an international concern under Section 319 of the Public Health Services Act. 

This policy alteration, however, does not change the accessibilities that the United States has spent the last three years developing. Vaccines are still freely available, and medical professionals recommend quarantine and masks for those who test positive for COVID-19. 

Over the last three years, researchers constantly discovered new variants of COVID-19, and according to the Department of Public Health, a new strand has been on the rise.

EG.5, or “ERIS,” is spreading across the United States and is the dominant new variant people are testing positive for. It is responsible for 16% of the newest cases in Georgia and 17% of the newest cases in the country. 

The public is encouraged to get the recent variation of the COVID-19 vaccine, the Bivalent, which is a one-dose vaccination and can help prevent contracting the virus. 

Primary care physician Amy Eubanks, who works at Bremen Primary Care, reassures the public not to worry too much about the uptick in cases. “We always see a kick-up of viral illnesses when kids go back to school,” said Eubanks,  “They’re just mixing germs again. It’s a pool for it to spread.” 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is working with Pfizer and Moderna to create a new vaccine to boost immunity to both original and new strains. 

With the rise in hospitalizations — and, in certain cases, deaths — Atlanta colleges have been considering re-establishing some mandates to protect their students recently returning to school from their summer travels. 

Morris Brown College announced last week that, effective immediately, masks would be mandated on campus. This stays in effect for two weeks as more students return from summer break and test positive
for COVID-19. 

Along with the mask mandate, there are six other protocols that students and staff of Morris Brown are
encouraged to follow.

Students are encouraged to practice physical distancing (staying six feet apart) and to follow institutional guidelines related to gatherings — meaning no parties or large student events on campus for the first two weeks of classes. 

Morris Brown also requires temperature checks upon arrival to campus, and in the case of a positive test, a five-day quarantine is mandatory. Finally, students are encouraged to practice good sanitation and hygiene habits. Regularly washing hands and refraining from touching one’s face is recommended.  

Stamps Health Services has created dashboards to monitor COVID-19 cases among students. Though they no longer use individual testing to sample population sizes, they use wastewater testing by taking samples from several locations on campus. Every Monday and Thursday at 12 p.m., they update the dashboard with new information. 

In the last two weeks, the number of positive cases on campus has spiked, from a moving average of 2 to 7.14 per day. The number of individual students who tested positive changed from around five per day in the last week to 12-15 per day as of this current week. 

Preeti Vellanki, third-year BIOS, had opinions about the health and safety of students on college campuses. 

“I don’t think it’s realistic to ask every student and staff member to wear masks all day again,” said Vellanki, “as it has been many months since I’ve personally seen more than two or three people on campus wear masks to their classes. However, I do think that we should all test frequently and quarantine if we test positive.” 

When asked about whether or not she thinks people have stopped taking COVID-19 seriously, she stressed that the illness is like the flu, and just because people have gotten used to hearing about it doesn’t mean that it can’t be debilitating to experience. 

“People don’t walk around when they have the flu, and they stay away from people so they don’t get …sick. I think that’s all we need to do. It’s natural for the temperature and the sudden gatherings of people to make people more sick, but we can prevent it pretty easily by just being a little cautious,” Vellanki said. 

Upcoming decisions Atlanta colleges make depend on how the situation turns out in the following weeks. Until the creation of any new guidelines, Tech students are still encouraged to get tested regularly and follow COVID-19 guidelines.