As students, faculty and staff return to WKU’s campus in less than a month, WKU has outlined how it will handle quarantine procedures, COVID-19 testing and contact tracing in the fall semester.
David Oliver, the director of the Department of Environmental Health and Safety, said in an email sent to students, faculty and staff last week that Graves Gilbert Clinic will begin to perform PCR (live virus) and antibody tests on campus beginning on Aug. 3. Unlike the University of Kentucky, WKU will not require students to take a PCR test before the fall semester begins.
“Some universities have elected to require PCR testing for all incoming students,” Oliver said in the email. “WKU has not chosen this approach based on consultation with our partner physicians and the most recent guidance (from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).”
Oliver said someone can qualify for COVID-19 testing on campus for one of the following reasons:
– They are reporting symptoms that are related to COVID-19.
– They have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
– A public health agency, through contact tracing, has identified them as being in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
– A physician orders a test for them because their health condition makes them vulnerable to COVID-19.
Oliver said live virus and antibody test results will take two to four days. WKU is working with GCC to provide a “rapid test option” that would reduce the current expected wait time for live virus and antibody test results, Oliver said.
“Graves Gilbert has purchased the equipment to do a rapid test, so they can analyze it and results can be produced in minutes, but the issue with that is trying to get the test materials because of the nationwide shortage,” Oliver said in an interview with the Herald. “So Graves Gilbert and our other suppliers are trying to locate test materials so that we can utilize that as another option.”
WKU is performing contact tracing through the Barren River District Health Department, Oliver said. If contact tracing reveals that a person has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, that person must self-quarantine for 14 days.
Students, faculty and staff are also required to self-quarantine for 14 days if they have symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19 or if they have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus, Oliver said. If a person travels to a state or country that is under a travel restriction, that person must self-quarantine for 14 days upon return.
Students who test positive for COVID-19 or show symptoms of the virus will be quarantined immediately in an assigned location that will be determined by WKU Housing and Residence Life, Oliver said. Through contact tracing, if a public health agency determines that a student who is not ill must be quarantined for 14 days, the student may self-quarantine off campus.
Oliver said WKU will be providing several services to students who are quarantined on campus.
“If they need medical care, we will be able to go out and get that for them,” Oliver told the Herald. “Counseling will be available for mental health. We will try to provide the necessities they need during the quarantine and that’s our goal.”
If a student misses in-person classes because they are quarantined, Oliver said, their grades in the course will not be negatively impacted.
He said Aramark, WKU’s dining service provider, has created an online program for students who are quarantined on campus.
“Quarantined students will be able to have their meals delivered to them,” Oliver said. The selected meals will be charged to the student’s meal plan or university account.
“Meals will be packaged individually and be delivered by a staff member,” Oliver said. “Other necessities, such as toiletries, that are found in campus stores will be available for delivery.”
Oliver said the Department of Environmental Health and Safety will be providing personal protective equipment to faculty and staff.
“We are going to issue to every employee cloth masks as part of the start-up and there will be gloves available as well,” Oliver told the Herald. “Those will be there if people want them or if they are doing something that requires them to handle anything.”
Oliver said that students, faculty and staff can do three things in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus.
“To support our Big Red Restart and Healthy on the Hill plans, we need all members of the WKU Community to help prevent the spread of the virus,” Oliver wrote. “Wear your mask, stay 6 feet apart, and perform your daily health checks. Together we can be successful operating alongside COVID-19.”
Faculty members, however, are asking for more details about how WKU’s Big Red Restart plan will work, and seek more transparency, such as regular and accessible updates on any COVID-19 cases on campus.
“I echo the concerns of faculty who have reached out to me that the message fails to provide detail,” Julie Shadoan, chair of the Faculty Senate, said in an email. “I am sensitive to the fact that we are working with a moving target, but there is an expectation of preparedness.”
Shadoan said she wants to know how faculty will handle the course load of a student who needs to be quarantined on campus or at home. She also wants to know if WKU will release information about the campus’ positive cases of COVID-19 to the public.
“I have been directed to other university websites where that information is shared often and publicly,” Shadoan said. “I think this is a great example of transparency in messaging.”
Shadoan said she wonders if students without health insurance will have their COVID-19 testing costs waived. She would also like to receive more information on how contract tracing would work at WKU, especially since the university is collaborating with the Barren River District Health Department.
“Will WKU be able to ensure all appropriate persons are contacted and that those persons will then comply with directions to test and/or quarantine?” Shadoan said.