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Ky. universities hoping to prevent monkeypox, COVID-19 spread on campuses as fall classes begin

Cynthia S. Goldsmith

As Kentucky universities welcome students back into their classrooms for the fall semester, school officials are also hoping to prevent the spread of monkeypox and COVID-19 on their campuses.

As of Wednesday, 17 cases of monkeypox have been reported in Kentucky and many colleges are repurposing the prevention methodology they developed during the COVID-19 pandemic to address the monkeypox outbreak, which the White House recently declared a public health emergency. This comes even as COVID-19 cases continue at a steady clip across the country and in Kentucky – where the weekly positivity rate recently measured 18.51%.

These viruses each have their own risks, and colleges are having to adapt to those. That’s according to Dr. Lindsey Mortenson of the American College Health Association (ACHA).

"Many colleges and universities are thinking about 'how do we turn the page institutionally?" Mortenson told NPR in a recent interview. "'How do we take all of these public health informed practices and apply them in a different context?'"

The ACHA, which represents over 700 institutions of higher education, is now coordinating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to inform member schools – which include the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville, Western Kentucky University, Asbury University, Centre College, Spalding University and Bellarmine University – about best practices.

Early symptoms of monkeypox include fever, chills, headache and exhaustion. rashes that can form on various parts of the body. Experts say it’s accurate to think of the virus as a sexually transmitted disease, though it can be spread by other means. Though the monkeypox virus doesn’t spread as easily as COVID-19, symptoms usually last two to four weeks.

Murray State University’s executive director of government and institutional relations Jordan Smith says the school will keep in close contact with the Calloway County Health Department in regards to COVID-19 and monkeypox.

“We also know that our Racer Safe and Healthy Guidelines have proven to be effective for our students, faculty and staff,” Smith says. “We encourage everyone to continue to follow those guidelines.”

Those preventative guidelines advise Murray State students and faculty to practice good hygiene, including washing hands, receiving flu and COVID-19 vaccinations, quarantining when ill and wearing a mask when exhibiting symptoms.

Murray State has been directed by the state to encourage students who are requesting a test or vaccine for monkeypox to visit the Calloway County Health Department. Murray in partnership with Kentucky Care will also have free-of-charge COVID-19 testing, vaccines and boosters on Aug. 24 at the Curris Center on campus.

Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green has also collaborated with its local health care providers in its COVID-19 response and monitoring of the monkeypox outbreak.

WKU’s director of environmental health and safety and emergency manager David Oliver says there are different criteria when dealing with monkeypox as opposed to COVID. He says monkeypox, unlike COVID-19 is not as broad of a risk to communities.

“[Monkeypox] is very different,” Oliver said. “It's more like HIV and [other diseases] where it requires more of an intimate contact versus just casual.”

WKU is also continuing to employ contact tracing for COVID-19 with the help of local health officials.

“Hopefully, what we're doing is consistent with Murray and the other schools around the state,” Oliver says. “I feel it is, because we're constantly working with each other.”

The University of Kentucky has been combating COVID-19 with its START (Screening, Testing and Tracing, to Accelerate Restart and Transition Team) initiative composed of physicians that work for the institution. In regards to monkeypox, students at the university have been advised to be cautious to prevent the spread of the disease.

Mason Galemore is a Murray State student studying journalism. He was the editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper. Since then has explored different publication avenues such as broadcasting. He hopes to travel as a journalist documenting conflict zones and different cultures. He remembers watching the Arab Spring in 2011 via the news when he was a kid, which dawned in a new age of journalism grounded in social media. His favorite hobbies are hiking, photography, reading, writing and playing with his Australian Shepard, Izzy. He is originally from Charleston, Missouri.
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