A vial containing the monkeypox vaccine is pictured at the Salt Lake Public Health Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 27. With an influx of people coming back to the state for college, here’s how Utah’s higher education institutions are preparing for the students’ return and how the institutions are equipping themselves to handle a monkeypox outbreak. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)
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SALT LAKE CITY — The federal government on Thursday declared a public health emergency in the face of the monkeypox outbreak that has now infected more than 7,000 Americans.
Universities around the state will be kicking off the fall semester later this month, marking a return to the Beehive State for students all across the world.
With an influx of people coming to the state — some living in dorms or close-quarter situations — here’s how Utah’s higher education institutions are preparing for students’ return and how they’re equipping themselves to handle a monkeypox outbreak.
Utah Valley University
As the largest university in the state, with over 41,000 students, Utah Valley University has been monitoring monkeypox “for several weeks” and will continue to do so.
“We are in contact with the Utah County Health Department as a part of the monitoring process,” said Robin Ebmeyer, director of emergency management and safety at UVU.
Ebmeyer noted that UVU has a strong relationship with the county health department after working through the COVID-19 pandemic together.
Currently, there isn’t a high concentration of monkeypox in Utah County — only four cases, according to Utah Department of Health and Human Services data.
“We are updating our student health services regarding case counts and vaccination availability,” Ebmeyer said. “We are working on a document that will be available for students, staff and faculty, regarding monkeypox; and it will be available on our website.”
This document will contain information on the disease, how to lessen the chance of contracting it, as well as necessary steps to take if there is a concern.
“Our focus at this time is monitoring and getting appropriate information to our campus community,” Ebmeyer said.
Brigham Young University
Brigham Young University is handling monkeypox similarly to its neighbors to the north.
Right now, BYU’s focus is on working closely with state and local agencies to plan for and mitigate the disease.
“Our plan is to follow the direction of public health professionals within the Utah Department of Health and the Utah County Health Department,” said Todd Hollingshead, media relations manager at BYU.
Utah State University
As of Friday, the Utah Department of Health and Human Services wasn’t reporting any monkeypox cases in Cache County.
Despite this, Amanda DeRito, spokeswoman for Utah State University, said the disease is “on everyone’s radar.”
“At Utah State University, we look to our state and local public health officials for guidance, as we do in all situations involving infectious diseases,” DeRito said.
She added that tests and vaccines for monkeypox are in short supply and not currently available at USU’s campus.
“Anyone experiencing symptoms of monkeypox should see their health care provider,” DeRito said. “Students on the Logan campus can reach out to the USU Student Health Center.”
Weber State University
As of Wednesday, there were three confirmed cases of monkeypox in Weber and Morgan counties, the Utah Department of Health and Human Services said.
Weber State University officials said they are prepared to handle the disease through lessons learned over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Weber State has time-tested protocols for emerging health crises, many of which we successfully employed early on and during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Bryan Magaña, director of public relations at WSU.
This includes routine and detailed updates to ensure their students, faculty, staff and the surrounding community remain informed and safe.
“Our health and safety experts are currently working on more detailed plans should the monkeypox health crisis evolve into an epidemic or pandemic,” Magaña said. “For all public health concerns, (university) housing works closely with the Utah Department of Health and Human Services, as well as WSU Public Safety, to develop and execute plans to keep students safe.”
He added that WSU’s plans incorporate the latest guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Southern Utah University
David Bishop, Southern Utah University’s director of public relations, told KSL.com the Cedar City university is monitoring what’s going on both nationally and statewide with monkeypox.
“We’re going to rely heavily on the guidance that we get from state and federal health officials,” Bishop said. “That’s going to be our guiding force on this or any other pandemic that may be out there.”
He added that the university has had preliminary discussions about handling the disease but hasn’t developed any action plans quite yet.
“To the best of our knowledge, there have been no cases in southern Utah,” Bishop said. “We’re in preliminary discussions on what to do if we have a case of monkeypox here on campus.”
Utah Tech University
Similar to the northern Utah institutions, Utah’s southernmost university depends on “health authorities’ expertise to determine if a response to a health concern is necessary,” said Jyl Hall, Utah Tech University’s director of public relations.
“Utah Tech has not received any direction from our local or state health departments or the CDC indicating a need to initiate a monkeypox response plan,” Hall said.
As of Wednesday, 43 confirmed and probable cases of monkeypox had been reported in Utah, according to the Utah Department of Health and Human Services.
Case counts by county are as follows:
- Davis County: 2
- Salt Lake County: 34
- Utah County: 4
- Weber and Morgan counties: 3
The state health department has advised the best way to prevent infection is to have people with the infection avoid transmitting it to others.
“This means not coming into contact with other people while the rash is present. The rash can look like pimples or blisters and can appear on any part of the body. If you notice an unusual rash, seek testing from your medical provider and avoid exposing others,” according to a news release from the health department.
Additionally, vaccines and tests for the disease are in low supply, and the health department expects that to be the case “for the foreseeable future.”
The agency “is tracking the virus, collecting data from local health departments, coordinating distribution of vaccines, and providing information to providers about how to recognize and initiate testing for the virus,” the release says.
Rebecca Walsh, associate director of communications at the University of Utah, told KSL.com that University of Utah Health will have information regarding monkeypox available next week.