A look inside UCO’s contact tracing

Written by Jacob Silva and Sarah Hite

Contact tracing, a technique used to isolate individuals who may have been exposed to a virus such as COVID-19, has been adopted by universities this fall to reduce the number of coronavirus cases on campuses. 

The University of Central Oklahoma outlined its contact tracing plan before the start of the semester, and the Vista investigated what that process looks like for the students and faculty involved, and what degrees of success the program has had. 

Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs at UCO, Adrienne Nobles, explained what a student, staff or faculty member goes through upon receiving a positive test.

The COVID-19 Response Team at UCO is a group of UCO employees, led by the UCO Department of Public Safety, who have been trained to contact trace in addition to their regular job duties. 

“When a report of a positive test is sent through our online reporting system, a member of the COVID-19 Response Team will follow up with a phone call to ask when they were last on campus, where they were on campus, if they were wearing a mask/were socially distanced, and who may have been within six feet of the person for more than 15 minutes,” Nobles said. 

Those who are confirmed to have been exposed to the positive case must then be given their next steps from a member of the response team. The team reaches out via a phone call and asks further questions to ensure minimal exposure to the community. 

Recently a Vista contributing writer contracted the virus. Preston Poole said his experience with the response team seemed successful in regard to himself.

“So I reported that I had tested positive for covid last Wednesday to the school via their webpage they have set up. Later that night someone called me from the school to ask me some questions,” Poole stated. 

They asked him what class he was in and who the professor was. They also asked what days he was on campus, if he might have come in contact with anyone outside my class and if he had told anyone. 

“Once I got my results, I contacted everyone I was around on campus before I reported though. They said they’d reach out to people I might have come in contact with, but I’m not sure they ever did,” Poole stated.

UCentral, the campus newscast, has reported that those who have been exposed can experience long wait times to receive directions from UCO’s COVID-19 response team. 

Shannon Chuah, a participation crew member of UCentral, was featured in a story about his experience with the contact tracing team and IMMY labs testing facility on campus. 

UCentral Newscast Sept. 9, 2020. In a coronavirus special report, UCentral Reporter Tyler Whitehead spoke to UCO student Shannon Chuah about his experience with the UCO Contact Tracing Team.

Chuah thought he may have been exposed to the virus so he took advantage of the free testing on campus. He was tested and before receiving his results, he received an email from the response team explaining that a faculty member reported his possible exposure.

The email informed him, he should quarantine and contact UCO’s tracing hotline. However, the phone number listed on the email was the UCO police department.  

“I tried calling them over the weekend … UCO PD picked up the call and they really didn’t know what to do. They told me that the person in charge wasn’t available on weekends at all,” Chuah said.

As an on-campus resident, Chuah explained it was frustrating trying to follow the quarantine rules while still accessing food services on campus.

“No one said anything about bringing me food, there was nothing, just ‘figure it out yourself’ … There has to be more people on-call, it’s called a response team for a reason,” Chuah said.

When asked about these potential wait times, Nobles added, “When a student, faculty or staff member makes a report via the online form, they receive an automated response via email that details instructions for quarantining and getting tested. These instructions should be followed as soon as possible without waiting for a call back from a member of the response team.”

Additional team members have been added to UCO’s contact tracing team in the last week, and more may be added as students and faculty enter the winter. 

The response team’s website includes a self-reporting form so that if a positive case is confirmed, that member of the student body or faculty can inform the university.

Positive cases can also be reported by calling the COVID-19 response team at 405-974-2345. The UCO website lists that same number as the number for campus police. When asked about this connection, Nobles added that the Department of Public Safety is leading the COVID-19 Response Team, which explains the connection.

Another way the university has attempted to increase transparency around its COVID-19 response is with the UCO COVID-19 Dashboard. This dashboard, similar to the program the Oklahoma Department of Health uses and updates daily, provides detailed information on how many active cases, recovered cases, and total cases the university has at a given time.

Although, upon using this tool on a daily basis, the Vista and UCentral news have experienced inconsistent reporting.

When members of those two respective news teams emailed the COVID-19 response team to ask when the dashboard would be updated, they received mixed messages.

One member said that each day it would update at 2 p.m. although this did not appear to be the case after two weeks of use. Multiple times, after a member of UCentral noticed the dashboard had not changed in two to three days, they would email the response team.

In comparison, other local universities have also created a COVID-19 tracking tool.

For example, the University of Oklahoma’s contact tracing tool details the reason for the number of individuals in isolation or in quarantine. As of Oct. 8, 40 people experienced symptoms, 50 people had a household exposure, 71 tested positive and 196 were exposed. 

Another university to consider is Oklahoma State University. OSU’s coronavirus dashboard details the number of tests used and the number of positive cases, showing a 4.36% positive testing rate.

The dashboard also shows the specific number of positive cases in athletics, as well as how many self-reported cases there are. Each dashboard provides a total number of faculty and student positive cases, and also details to various degrees the positive cases in housing. 

UCO’s Monday edition of Centralities has specifics on COVID-19 operating updates. Included are reminders on how and where to use the self-reporting tool, the newest issue of the student code of conduct, and a direct link to the dashboard.  

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