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Northeast Ohio colleges relax COVID protocols while warning students of monkeypox

Students listening to a lecturer
College students listening to a lecturer

College is getting back in session for many in Northeast Ohio, and like other segments of society, COVID-19 restrictions are being loosened in many cases, with mask requirements for the most part being lifted. Colleges also have a new threat to contend with in monkeypox, however.

On the monkeypox front, area colleges have each sent out notices to their students and staff warning them of the symptoms of the disease and how it’s spread and noted that testing is available. Area health departments also have limited stocks of vaccines available, several colleges noted in their releases.

Meanwhile, each college has differing protocols on COVID prevention. Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C), for example, will begin classes this week under a mask requirement due to high transmission levels of COVID-19 in Cuyahoga County.

Meanwhile, Case Western Reserve University will not require masking in classrooms, but, a vaccine requirementcontinues for all students and staff. At the University of Akron, masks are not required and students will no longer be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19, although it previously had such a requirement in place.

At Cleveland State University and Kent State University, masking and vaccines will also not be required in most areas.

Stephanie Goggins, a 40-year-old law student at Cleveland State, said she was concerned about the lack of protocols present to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as the school year starts. She said she was worried it’ll mean more people get sick – and will encourage people to go to class even if they are sick – spelling trouble for immunocompromised professors and students.

“My dad has COPD, so what do I do about that?” she said. “How do I keep my family safe but then still respect someone else’s autonomy to not wear a mask or wear a mask.”

David Kielmeyer, a spokesperson for Cleveland State, said students and staff have been “diligent” in following safety guidelines in recent years.

“A key part of that effort has been creating a culture where it is okay to be sick and miss class or work,” he said. “We continue to encourage members of the community to stay home when they are sick and get better before they return to campus. And, we ask our faculty to work to accommodate students who miss class because of illness.”

Most schools in announcements listed on their websites explained masks will be required inside campus clinics and in some other limited settings. For example, the University of Akron and the Cleveland State both note on their websites that masks will be required in classrooms where professors ask for them to be required.

Some specific groups of students are also required to be vaccinated based on their major or areas of work. For example, some students studying nursing in the field of respiratory therapy are required to be vaccinated, as are students working “directly” on certain federally funded grants, said Cristine Boyd, a University of Akron spokesperson.

In justifying the loosened protocols, many of the colleges pointed to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated guidance from early August, which similarly offered relaxed guidelines on quarantining and masking.

Many of the colleges in their notices to students and staff warned that monkeypox is transmitted through “close contact” with others, including skin-to-skin contact, in respiratory droplets exchange in face-to-face contact (like kissing), and through indirect contact like towels and toiletries that have been used by an infected person.

“If you are experiencing skin lesions, a rash or any of the other related symptoms – or have had close contact with someone infected with monkeypox – contact your primary health care provider and avoid close contact with others,” a notice from Cleveland State University reads.

Corrected: August 29, 2022 at 10:11 AM EDT
This story previously said that University of Akron staff were no longer required to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.