Butler updates its COVID-19 response for the spring semester. Collegian file photo.
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Butler University’s surveillance testing, quarantine time period, contact tracing staff and daily health check have undergone significant redevelopment in advance of the spring 2021 semester.
The new policies are being implemented after reviewing data from the fall semester in addition to information released by the CDC. Functional health and safety procedures are especially important with the emergence of three COVID-19 variants from the U.K., Brazil and South Africa.
According to the New York Times, even though cases in Marion County have decreased over the past two weeks, it is still at a “very high risk level.” Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 86,000 Marion County residents have been infected with COVID-19, with a current daily average of 340 cases.
Butler further explained the updates to its COVID-19 response in a webinar hosted on Jan. 22.
The university has made significant improvements to its testing efforts. Brent Rockwood, vice president and chief of staff, said that with limited testing supplies in the fall, the university focused testing efforts on symptomatic students, quarantined students, close contacts of students and student athletes per NCAA and Big East requirements.
This semester, Butler is implementing a more involved surveillance testing program, meaning they are testing large portions of the asymptomatic student population.
In an email sent out on Jan. 29, the university informed students that they will be required to get a test once every three weeks. Rockwood said the goal is to test approximately 1,500 students every week.
“The strategy and the rationale behind that was to just further identify cases, and this will allow us to understand the true prevalence of COVID on our campus in the broader population,” Rockwood said.
Quarantine time period
In the fall, the CDC recommended a 14-day quarantine, and the university crafted its policy around that recommendation. The CDC has now updated their recommendation to include a 10-day quarantine option.
According to the CDC, a 14-day quarantine is recommended. “However, based on local circumstances and resources… Quarantine can end after Day 10 without testing and if no symptoms have been reported during daily monitoring,” the update said. “With this strategy, residual post-quarantine transmission risk is estimated to be about 1% with an upper limit of about 10%.”
Rockwood said the university is going to implement the new 10-day quarantine option. This will reduce the burden of a 14-day quarantine by four days, allowing students and employees to return to in-person classes and activities without significantly increasing the risk profile for others on campus.
“In the first semester, we tested students in quarantine,” Rockwood said. “We are going to continue that and we’ll test quarantined students on days five and on days 10. So the risk profile is going to be much lower, likely, than what the CDC estimates.”
Contact tracing staff
In the fall, the university experienced some difficulties with identifying close contacts of positive cases, especially when there was a spike in cases towards the end of the semester. To help prevent any confusion in the future, the university has increased its staff of contact tracers to further manage COVID-19 cases on campus.
Meet Patel, a sophomore health science major, is glad to hear that the university has made improvements to its contact tracing efforts.
“What I heard from people was that contact tracing efforts were not really that good at the end of last semester, so it was good to hear in the webinar that they increased their staffing,” Patel said.
Daily health check badges
The final improvement made to last semester’s policies is a new daily health check process. The questions are the same, but the new technology allows the university to monitor compliance with the health check and new testing requirement.
Rockwood said that when a student completes the daily health check, they will receive a virtual badge connected with their student account and ID. A green badge will be required to enter buildings such as the dining halls, the library, the HRC and Hinkle Fieldhouse. Faculty may also check badges in the classrooms.
Patel noticed the steps taken to help increase compliance with the daily health check.
“We have to do our survey,” Patel said. “We can’t really go anywhere without it. When we have to grab something to eat between classes, you can usually just go in, grab something and get out, but now you really have to pause and show that badge every morning so it just forces you to go through that routine of filling it out.”
In addition to the four policy changes made on campus, there have been additional opportunities for pharmacy and PA students to apply what they are learning in the classroom to the real world.
Jane Gervasio, pharmacy practice department chair and professor, said pharmacy and PA students have been administering vaccines at a multitude of pharmacies in the Indianapolis area. She said it is incredible to watch because they are the ones on the front lines giving the immunizations.
“If you’re a student, you’re not only learning in the book sense, but you’re actually putting that knowledge to use, and so I think they’re really enjoying it,” Gervasio said. “In fact, our students have graciously volunteered. I will say, Butler University students seem to want to give back. They want to do community service and this is just one more way, and I think this one is so exciting for them.”
Patel has also found the information he is learning inside of the classroom applicable to what is occurring in the world.
“I’m taking Exploring Public Health and we’re living in a public health crisis right now,” Patel said. “[Health sciences professor] Dr. Omenka talks a lot about COVID and all the examples that we talk about in class are related to it now. So it’s just the whole environment of learning through what’s going on in our world right now, and I find that exhilarating.”
More information on Butler’s COVID-19 policies can be found at https://www.butler.edu/coronavirus.