Rowan University is encouraging students and staff to get the flu vaccine and practice now-familiar mitigation efforts — such as masking and frequent hand washing — after tracking 100 cases of the virus at its Glassboro campus during the last three weeks.
The timing of this surge has university officials bracing themselves for what could be a brisker flu season in the region than last year’s mild one.
According to the university, the number of flu cases at the Gloucester County campus is spiking earlier than usual — peak flu season typically runs between December and February.
Scott Woodside, director for the Glassboro Campus Wellness Center, said the early surge in cases could presage a bad season. Still, Woodside said that Friday offered a glimmer of hope as an estimated 25 students came in for flu tests compared to the almost 50 coming in each day since the start of the week.
Woodside said he hopes this means the university’s messaging is reaching students.
“We don’t know what [the flu season will] look like because we’ve never really been alive during a flu season post a pandemic non-flu season but I urge everyone to get vaccinated,” he said.
According to the CDC, last year’s drop-off in flu cases could mean the general population has reduced immunity to this year’s flu, leading to an earlier and more severe season. In a typical year, up to 41 million Americans can contract the virus. The flu vaccine can provide protection against the flu’s more serious complications, medical experts say.
Thomas Fekete, a professor at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University and an infectious disease doctor by training, said that while it’s hard to predict the severity of the season, one thing is certain: The virus will have an easier time circulating than it did earlier in the pandemic.
Last year, people were already adopting mitigation efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19, which in turn helped reduce the spread of the flu.
“I think this year it’s going to be much harder to maintain that level of vigilance,” said Fekete. “I think people are exhausted. They’ve worn a mask now for a year and a half, they’re tired, they want to go out, they want to socialize.”
Woodside believes mitigation efforts are what led to zero flu cases at the campus despite the 5,000 students staying in Rowan dorms in 2020.
For now, the university is asking students and staff to stay home if they feel body aches, chills, or sore throat associated with a fever. Those feeling sick should seek medical attention from their primary doctor or urgent care center.