Here’s how Utah universities are preparing to tackle monkeypox when classes resume

A vial of the monkeypox vaccine is pictured Wednesday, July 27, at the Salt Lake Public Health Center in Salt Lake City. With an influx of people returning to the state for college, here’s how Utah’s higher education institutions are preparing for the students’ return and how the institutions are bracing for 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 light of the monkeypox outbreak that has now infected more than 7,000 Americans.

Universities across the state will begin the fall semester later this month, marking a return to the Beehive State for students around the world.

With the influx of people pouring into the state — some living in dormitories or in cramped living quarters — Utah higher education institutions are preparing for the return of students and gearing up to deal with a monkeypox outbreak.

Utah Valley University

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

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

Ebmeyer noted that UVU has a close relationship with the county health department after working through the COVID-19 pandemic together.

There is currently no high concentration of monkeypox in Utah County — just four cases, according to data from the Utah Department of Health.

“We are updating our student health services regarding case numbers and vaccination availability,” Ebmeyer said. “We are working on a document that will be available to students, staff and faculty regarding monkeypox and it will be available on our website.”

This document provides information about the disease, how to reduce your chances of contracting it, and steps to take if you have concerns.

“Our focus right now is to monitor our campus community and get appropriate information,” said Ebmeyer.

Brigham Young University

Brigham Young University is dealing with monkeypox similar to its neighbors to the north.

For now, BYU is focused on working closely with state and local agencies to plan for and contain the 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, media relations manager at BYU.

Utah State University

As of Friday, the Utah Department of Health has not reported any cases of monkeypox in Cache County.

Still, Utah State University spokeswoman Amanda DeRito said the disease was “on everyone’s radar.”

“At Utah State University, we turn to our state and local health departments for guidance on how to do it in all infectious disease situations,” DeRito said.

She added that monkeypox tests and vaccines are in short supply and are not currently available on USU’s campus.

“Anyone who has symptoms of monkeypox should see their doctor,” DeRito said. “Students on the Logan campus may contact 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 said.

Weber State University officials said they are ready to manage the disease through lessons learned as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds.

“Weber State has proven protocols for emerging health crises, many of which we have used successfully early and during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Bryan Magaña, WSU director of public affairs.

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 develop into an epidemic or pandemic,” Magaña said. “For all public health concerns, (college) housing works closely with the Utah Department of Health and Human Services as well as WSU Public Safety to develop and implement plans to ensure student safety.”

He added that WSU’s plans incorporate the latest guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Southern Utah University

Southern Utah University director of public relations David Bishop told KSL.com that Cedar City University is monitoring what’s going on with monkeypox both nationally and statewide.

“We will be relying heavily on the guidance that we are receiving from state and federal health officials,” Bishop said. “That will be our guiding principle in this or any other pandemic that may exist.”

He added that the university has held preliminary talks on how to deal with the disease but has not yet developed action plans.

“To the best of our knowledge, there have been no cases in southern Utah,” Bishop said. “We are in preliminary discussions about what to do if we have a case of monkeypox here on campus.”

UtahTechUniversity

Similar to institutions in northern Utah, Utah’s southernmost university relies on “the expertise of public health officials to determine whether a response to a health issue is necessary,” said Jyl Hall, Utah Tech University’s director of public affairs.

“Utah Tech has not received any direction from our local or state health departments or the CDC indicating the need to initiate a monkeypox control plan,” Hall said.

Nationwide numbers

As of Wednesday, 43 confirmed and probable cases of monkeypox have been reported in Utah, according to the Utah Department of Health.

The case numbers by county are as follows:

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

The state health department has recommended the best way to prevent infection is for people with the infection to avoid spreading it to others.

“That means you don’t come into contact with other people while the rash is in place. The rash can look like pimples or blisters and can appear on any part of the body. If you notice an unusual rash, get tested by your doctor and avoid exposure to others,” the health department said in a press release.

Additionally, vaccines and tests for the disease are in short supply, and the health department expects they will be “for the foreseeable future”.

The agency “is tracking the virus, collecting data from local health authorities, coordinating vaccine distribution and providing information to providers on how to detect 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 the communities, education, economy and military of southern Utah.

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