Photo by Athena Pajer
Photo by Athena Pajer

What You Need to Know About Contact Tracing

August 24, 2020

This morning, Millikin students and faculty received an email confirming the first on-campus case of COVID-19.

The email, sent out by Millikin’s COVID team, explained that the case was discovered through Millikin’s testing partnership with CVS pharmacy. Millikin was first informed of the positive case on Sunday, August 23.

While the individual lives on campus, the case was due to an off-campus exposure. They are now self-isolating in their own home. 

However, the person with the confirmed case may not be alone in that for long.

“We are awaiting about 40 results from the over 200 tests that we have recorded,” Dane Lisser, Head of Media Relations and Publications, said. “If there is a significant time period between known positive cases then another email alert will be sent. Email communications will also be sent in the case of a change in campus operations.”

Lisser said the University will be posting daily updates on the number of cases through the COVID-19 information and FAQ page at millikin.edu/covid19.

Even only having the one case calls Millikin’s COVID-19 safety plan into action. As Millikin receives the first report of a positive case on campus, they’re relying on contact tracing and quarantining procedures to keep the community safe.

Contact tracing and case investigation are becoming key tools in helping contain and prevent a larger spread of COVID-19 in communities. Both have been used for decades, but are becoming essential as schools begin to re-open and welcome students.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes contact tracing procedures as “fundamental activities that involve working with a patient who has been diagnosed with an infectious disease to identify and provide support to people who may have been infected through exposure to the patient.”

Millikin’s Campus Life and Public Safety have teamed up to ensure contact tracing is utilized on campus. Together they have laid out a campus operations guide that describes how contact tracing will be carried out as students return to campus.

For the recently confirmed case, contact tracing and case investigation have already begun, and those who have interacted with the student have been contacted. Those individuals have been asked to self-quarantine and monitor their health for the next two weeks.

As the Office of Campus Life and Public Safety drafted the contact tracing and isolation protocols, they prioritized the safety of the Millikin community.

“We’re doing everything we can to mitigate,” Paul Lidy, Dean of Campus Life, said. “I think that’s where we as a university are doing our best. We want to keep students safe.” 

Campus Life will work with the student to make a plan that works for them. ”

Now, these protocols are being put to the test.

The procedure starts with the confirmed case. If a student has been exposed to COVID-19 or tests positive, they will be moved to isolated shousing. Residential cases will be temporarily quarantined in Walker Hall, Huss House, or Blackburn Hall. 

From then, the student is expected to be picked up by family or a guardian within 24 hours to then stay in home isolation for a minimum of 10 days. 

“If somebody should need to be in isolation housing on campus, most of it should be for a very short term because we are going to ask them and work with their family members to likely go home for their isolation stay, just because we’re not a hospital,” Lidy said.

Because people respond differently to the symptoms of COVID-19, Lidy’s main concern is that students have access to any medical care that they need. However, he recognizes that many students consider Millikin their permanent address, and for others, it’s not practical to travel home. Campus Life will work with the student to make a plan that works for them. 

“We want to be sensitive to the student’s needs,” Lidy said. “If a student is relatively asymptomatic but from several states away, then they would  be able to maintain isolation housing on campus with likely no problem. But if a student is seeing major symptoms and needs lots of medical care, then we would work with them and their family to have them picked up and do their isolation and get that care elsewhere. And that’s a case-by-case basis depending on how the situation is with that specific student…We’re not going to turn a student away, and we’re not going to not provide them the access to things that they need.”

The Office of Campus Life is working with Millikin’s IT department and dining services to ensure that students have everything they need while in isolation housing, and faculty are expected to accommodate students who test positive.

Millikin University’s contact tracing team will keep all data and personal information confidential,” Ballard said. “Contacts are not told who the confirmed case is, only that they have been identified as a close contact.”

After a positive case is confirmed, the contact tracing spreads outward from there. 

“Asymptomatic contacts of confirmed or highly probable cases will be instructed by MCHD (Macon County Health Department) and campus contact tracing personnel to enter quarantine,” reads the campus operations guidelines. 

Head of Public Safety, Chris Ballard, explains that Millikin University contact tracing personnel will focus solely on campus-related contacts. From there, MCHD’s contact tracing team will have a more comprehensive case investigation. 

Ballard assures that contact tracing on campus will also follow the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).  

“Millikin University’s contact tracing team will keep all data and personal information confidential,” Ballard said. “Contacts are not told who the confirmed case is, only that they have been identified as a close contact.”

While Millikin hopes that the isolation and contact tracing procedures will minimize risk, these protocols are only effective if they are followed. Lidy reminds students to log symptoms and COVID-19 test results on the Millikin COVID Clinic app at MyMillikin, and he encourages them to reach out to the Office of Campus Life or Public Safety with any questions.

“If you see something, say something,” Lidy said. “If you’re not feeling well, let us know. If you see people not following the guidelines, feel free to talk with them, and also let us know. All of those are different things that we need to do as a community to keep Millikin moving forward through the process.”

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