Message from the President: Announcement about delta variant and masks

woman walks at UT Health San Antonio wearing a mask.

Dear faculty, staff, students, residents and fellows:

We at UT Health San Antonio are closely monitoring the recent increase in community prevalence and transmission of the COVID-19 virus. At present, elsewhere and here in San Antonio, the latest surge is predominantly related to spread by the COVID delta variant. The delta variant is about four times more contagious than the original alpha variant and two times more lethal for unvaccinated people. Also important to note, all local hospitals have reported an increase in hospitalized patients since the end of June.

I have consulted with the leadership of our Vaccine Assessment and Access Task Force, led by Drs. Tom Patterson and Mike Charlton, to determine if UT Health San Antonio’s existing protocols related to the virus should be amended. There has been documentation of positive COVID-19 diagnoses among vaccinated persons worldwide, locally and on our campus. However, severe infections including hospitalization are uncommon among fully vaccinated people. Given the marked increase in community prevalence and spread, it is prudent that we increase our preventive protocols so that we can continue to keep on-campus transmission rates low.

First and foremost, vaccinations are strongly encouraged for all eligible people, including faculty, staff, students, family members and patients. Vaccines are safe, effective and free. Everyone needs to be vaccinated for everyone to be safe!

Additionally, below are the current protocols updates:

  • No communal or shared meals; group meals should be individually packaged.
  • Masks required in all clinical areas.
  • Masks strongly encouraged in non-clinical areas, especially in large group settings and in groups whose vaccination status is unknown.
  • Campus visitors should be asked about symptoms of COVID-like illness, including loss of taste or smell, or any exposures to COVID-like illness. If they have either of these, their visit should be deferred, or should take place virtually.
  • Off-campus visitors should be advised that unvaccinated persons should wear a mask when on our campus.

Protocols updates for those who have been exposed or are concerned about exposure, such as positive household contacts (Positive exposure occurs when subjects are within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes unmasked in a 24-hour period. Note: Exposure parameters may be less with delta variant):

  • Masks should be worn for 14 days for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
  • Monitor closely for symptoms (even mild, including upper respiratory symptoms and loss of taste or smell).
  • Obtain testing with symptoms.
  • Without symptoms, testing is offered at 5-7 days to prevent asymptomatic spread.
  • Non-vaccinated people should quarantine for 14 days.
  • Vaccinated people do not need to quarantine.
  • Testing is offered at UT Health San Antonio’s Wellness 360 (210-567-2788 or to schedule); residents: UH employee health; VA faculty: VA employee health.

While I understand that this recommendation to again wear masks adds inconvenience, it is a sensible and prudent action that reduces the chance of infection spread on our campus.

My thanks to the Vaccine Assessment and Access Task Force for their counsel and invaluable input. Please keep in mind the obvious — the situation with the pandemic is constantly changing and therefore other adjustments to our protocols are likely in the future.

Lastly, I am grateful for the success we have had with our COVID protocols to date, and I am hopeful we will continue to be able to protect all faculty, staff, students, residents and visitors through the actions outlined above.

With respect and appreciation,

William L. Henrich, MD, MACP
President and Professor of Medicine

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