COVID symptoms and safety: What you need to know

Cases of the COVID-19 virus are surging on campus and around the country as the highly contagious omicron variant spreads. Health expert Pam Jones, associate vice chancellor for health and wellness, co-leader of the university’s Public Health Central Command Center and associate professor in the School of Nursing, says the omicron variant is more contagious than past strains.

“Our back-to-school testing and asymptomatic testing programs are showing about an 8 percent positivity rate, compared to less than 1 percent with the delta variant,” Jones said. “We’re seeing cases across the board in staff, faculty, undergraduate students and graduate and professional students.”

As more members of the Vanderbilt community return to campus, Jones emphasized vigilance with safety precautions, especially masking, physical distancing, hand washing and, most importantly, vaccinations.

Boosters are essential

Medical experts stress that the vaccine booster is essential for protection against omicron. Some studies of the Pfizer vaccine show up to 70 percent protection with the booster.

“But that’s still 30 percent of vaccinated and boosted people who can become infected and potentially infect people around them who are unvaccinated or have chronic health conditions. That’s the reason we can’t just ignore this virus, even if the majority of people on campus might have mild symptoms,” Jones said.

Enhanced testing

Testing is one of the key measures to keep infection numbers down, so Vanderbilt is expanding its campus testing programs, including a sentinel, or random sample, program that will test a rotating number of students, faculty and staff; and an asymptomatic program that will require tests on a frequency linked to an individual’s choice to provide proof of their vaccination and booster status. Learn more about new testing protocols here.

Is it COVID or the flu?

Flu season is in full swing in Tennessee. COVID-19 and the flu are both viral infections that share many symptoms, such as fever, cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, runny nose, sore throat, body aches, headache, vomiting and diarrhea, and a change in (or loss of) taste or smell. Anyone with these symptoms should get tested.