As classes resume, Utah colleges are gearing up to fight monkeypox

A vial containing the monkeypox vaccine is photographed at the Salt Lake City Public Health Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 27. Higher education institutions in Utah are preparing students as more people return to the state for college. Return and how these institutions are equipping themselves to deal with monkeypox outbreaks. (Laura Seitz, Desert News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — The federal government declared a public health emergency Thursday in the face of an outbreak of monkeypox that has now infected more than 7,000 Americans.

The state’s universities will begin the fall semester later this month, marking the return of students from around the world to the hive state.

With an influx of people into the state — some living in dorms or close quarters — Utah higher education institutions are preparing for the return of students and how they are preparing for a monkeypox outbreak.

Utah Valley University

As the state’s largest university with more than 41,000 students, Utah Valley University has been monitoring monkeypox for “weeks” and will continue to do so.

“As part of the monitoring process, we are in contact with the Utah County Health Department,” said Robin Ebmeyer, UVU’s director of emergency management and safety.

Ebmeyer noted that UVU has developed a strong relationship with the county health department in the wake of their joint response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Utah Department of Health and Human Services, monkeypox cases in Utah are not high right now — just four.

“We are updating Student Health Services on case numbers and vaccination availability,” Ebmeyer said. “We are working on a monkeypox document for use by students, faculty and staff; it will be available on our website.”

The document will contain information about the disease, how to reduce the chance of contracting it, and the necessary steps to take if problems arise.

“Our focus at this time is on monitoring and getting the appropriate information to our campus community,” Ebmeyer said.

Brigham Young University

Brigham Young University handles monkeypox in a similar way to its northern neighbor.

Right now, Brigham Young University is focused on working closely with state and local agencies to plan for and mitigate this disease.

“Our plan is to follow the guidance of public health professionals within the Utah Department of Health and the Utah County Department of Health,” said Todd Hollingshead, BYU’s media relations manager.

Utah State University

As of Friday, the Utah Department of Health and Human Services had not reported any cases of monkeypox in Kutch County.

Still, Utah State University spokeswoman Amanda DeRito said the disease “has caught everyone’s attention.”

“At Utah State University, we seek guidance from state and local public health officials, as we do in all cases involving infectious diseases,” Derrito said.

She added that monkeypox tests and vaccines are in short supply and are not currently available on the USC campus.

“Anyone experiencing symptoms of monkeypox should see their healthcare provider,” Derrito said. “Students on the Logan campus can contact the USU Student Health Center.”

Weber State University

Three cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in Weber and Morgan counties as of Wednesday, the Utah Department of Health and Human Services said.

Officials at Weber State University say they are prepared to tackle the disease with lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Weber State University has proven protocols in place for emerging health crises, many of which we successfully adopted during the early and peak periods of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Bryan Magaña, director of public relations at Washington State University.

This includes routine and detailed updates to ensure their students, staff and surrounding communities stay informed and safe.

“Our health and safety experts are currently working on more detailed plans if the monkeypox health crisis turns into an epidemic or a pandemic,” Magania said. “For all public health issues, (University) Housing is working closely with the Utah Department of Health and Human Services and the WSU Department of Public Safety to develop and implement plans to keep students safe.”

He added that WSU’s plan incorporates the latest guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Southern Utah University

David Bishop, director of public relations at Southern Utah University, told KSL.com that Cedar City University is monitoring the monkeypox situation nationally and statewide.

“We will rely heavily on guidance from state and federal health officials,” Bishop said. “This will be the guiding force in our response to this epidemic or any other epidemic that may exist.”

He added that the university had had initial discussions on dealing with the disease, but had not yet drawn up any action plan.

“As far as we know, there are no cases in southern Utah,” Bishop said. “We are having preliminary discussions about what to do if there is a monkeypox case on campus.”

Utah Tech University

Similar to institutions in northern Utah, Utah’s southernmost university relies on “the expertise of health authorities to determine whether a response to health concerns is warranted,” said Jyl Hall, director of public relations at Utah Tech.

“Utah Tech has not received any indication from our local or state health department or the CDC that a monkeypox response plan needs to be activated,” Hall said.

Statewide numbers

As of Wednesday, Utah had reported 43 confirmed and probable cases of monkeypox, according to the Utah Department of Health and Human Services.

The number of cases by county is as follows:

  • Davis County: 2
  • Salt Lake County: 34
  • Utah County: 4
  • Weber and Morgan counties: 3

State health departments recommend that the best way to prevent infection is for an infected person to avoid spreading it to others.

“This means avoiding contact with other people while the rash is present. The rash looks like a pimple or blisters and can appear anywhere on the body. If you notice an unusual rash, seek testing from your healthcare provider and avoid exposure others,” according to a press release from the health department.

In addition, vaccines and tests for the disease are in short supply, which the health department expects “for the foreseeable future.”

The agency “is tracking the virus, collecting data from local health departments, coordinating vaccine distribution, and providing information to providers on how to identify and initiate testing for the virus,” the press release said.

Rebecca Walsh, associate director of communications at the University of Utah, told KSL.com that the University of Utah Health will provide information on monkeypox next week.

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Logan Stefanich is a reporter for KSL.com, covering community, education, business and military news in southern Utah.

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