Less than a month from the scheduled return of in-person classes at Western Kentucky University, new details have emerged about how the campus will handle testing, contact tracing and quarantine for students with COVID-19.
WKU Environmental Health and Safety Director David Oliver on Thursday addressed the campus in a memo aiming to answer these key questions before classes start Aug. 24.
While WKU is partnering with Graves Gilbert Clinic to offer PCR (live virus) and antibody tests on campus starting Aug. 3, Oliver said, incoming students will not be required to get one before in-person classes start.
“Some universities have elected to require PCR testing of all incoming students,” Oliver, the university’s emergency manager, wrote in the memo. “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 noted that testing is available in the interim at all other Graves Gilbert Clinic offices. Tests are currently available if someone meets one of the criteria laid out by the CDC or the state Department for Public Health or as ordered by a physician. Those factors include if the person in question is showing COVID-19 symptoms, if they’ve been in close contact with an infected person, if they’ve been identified by a contact tracer as likely exposed or if they’re under a doctor’s orders to get tested for COVID-19.
Test results for either a diagnostic (live-virus) test or an antibody test are currently returned within two to four days, Oliver said. He added that, for WKU employees and their dependents covered under the university’s health plan, costs for copays, in-network treatment providers and some other related visits have been waived.
“Additionally, WKU is working closely with (Graves Gilbert Clinic) to provide a rapid-test option with local laboratory processing that may drastically reduce the wait time for results. When these plans are finalized, information will be communicated to all employees,” Oliver wrote.
Oliver said contact tracing for WKU students, faculty and staff will be handled by the Barren River District Health Department in coordination with the state health department. Similarly, local health departments will conduct contact tracing for WKU’s Elizabethtown and Owensboro campuses in concert with the state Department for Public Health.
Oliver outlined the contact tracing process in his memo: “All positive test results are automatically communicated to the state contact tracing group. This includes tests for individuals in other states who may identify people residing in Kentucky as potential contacts. WKU will cooperate fully with our public health partners to assist with contact tracing while protecting the privacy of our faculty, staff and students in accordance with applicable government regulations,” he wrote.
Any WKU faculty, staff member or student who has COVID-19 symptoms or who has been in close contact with someone who tests positive or has been directed to quarantine by public health personnel will need to undergo a self-quarantine period typically lasting 14 days and contact their health care provider for guidance.
This also applies to those who have traveled outside Kentucky to a state or country included in a travel restriction issued by the governor.
“We ask that all members of the WKU community answer the call if a public health representative reaches out to you. The representative will provide verification of their identity and direct you on appropriate actions to take, which may include self-quarantine, testing, etc.,” Oliver wrote.
Oliver also described what quarantine will look like for students, adding that they will have the option to return home for their quarantine period if desired.
If students live on campus and opt to stay at WKU for the duration of their quarantine, they will be housed in designated spaces on campus, Oliver said. Students will be supported by a designated WKU Housing and Residence Life coordinator specifically tasked with assisting quarantined students. Medical care will be provided by Graves Gilbert Clinic at its on-campus location or through telemedicine sessions with an on-call provider, Oliver said.
Aramark, the university’s dining services vendor, has developed an online system for on-campus, quarantined students to order food through their meal plan or other existing university account. Meals will be packaged individually and delivered by a staff member, Oliver wrote. Other essentials, including toiletries, that are found in on-campus stores will be available for delivery as well.
If a student lives in on-campus housing and is directed to quarantine – but is not showing symptoms of COVID-19 – he or she will initially remain in their assigned room, Oliver wrote.
“WKU will evaluate the case with direction from public health and make a decision on appropriate housing locations,” Oliver wrote. “Students who are symptomatic, or test positive for COVID-19, will be immediately moved to a designated quarantine location on campus. Provisions have been made to assist the students with a relocation to campus quarantine space, and to support their needs throughout the quarantine period as previously noted. In all cases where students are directed by public health to quarantine, they will have the option to return home for the quarantine period.”
Oliver also stressed that required absences from class during the pandemic will not count against students: “Absences of students forced to miss class for health reasons may not negatively impact the students’ progress/grade in courses.”
Oliver asked the WKU community to help make the university’s reopening possible.
“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. Wear your mask, stay 6 feet apart, and perform your daily health checks. Together, we can be successful operating alongside COVID-19,” he wrote.
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