Preventing, testing and tracking COVID-19 at NWOSU
October 18, 2020
Northwestern Oklahoma State University staff spent many weeks over the summer planning for the return to classes in the fall. Now two months into the semester, NWOSU Dean of Students Calleb Mosburg discusses how those plans are working.
"We have set up and socially distanced all of our classrooms to allow for at least six feet of space in almost every classroom when possible. I know there have been some adjustments in classrooms. Half meet here one day and half meet on another day if they can't get the socially distancing things set up," he said.
"As much as possible in all the classes they are trying to do an in-class or face-to-face component with masks. Around campus, in the buildings, all buildings require you have to have your mask on inside.
The dorm facilities as well ... down the hallways, lobbies. Once they get into the room, they're able to take their masks off."
Mosburg praised the maintenance staff members for their "great job." He said they made hand sanitizer stands that are placed in almost every entrance to a building around campus.
Kelsey Martin, director of marketing and university relations, added, "One thing to mention is the custodial staff is going around more than ever disinfecting in between class sessions. They've really taken on a huge job."
"And our faculty, some have even taken it on themselves," said Mosburg.
"There are spray bottles (of disinfectant) in each classroom so even if a student felt like it, before and after class, they could wipe things down," said Martin. "They have access to things like that."
Posters reminding students and staff to wear masks, practice social distancing and wash their hands are hung throughout the buildings.
"We are trying to patrol campus as best as we can," Mosburg said. "Evenings a handful of times I've been up and been around reminding kids, if they're standing around close to each other, to make sure they have their masks on or social distance, things like that. We know that's a little bit harder for kids to follow sometimes, but we're trying to adhere to those policies around campus." He said the staff and faculty are expected to follow the same policies.
"We've really done a good job between messaging, posting signs, putting our campus reopening plan together and communicating that out to our students and our employees and guests whenever they come in," Mosburg added. "We do have provided masks for guests when they show up.
"We've limited the number of events. We've postponed homecoming. A lot of other events we try to do a new format for. Our Ranger preview event that's going to be on the 7th (November), we're not hosting it on campus. We're going to do a virtual event. Some things like that to try and help prevent any further spread here."
Coronavirus precautions extend to the cafeteria as well where students have a grab-and-go option for meals. "We're allowing them to come in and fill a little clam thing and leave," Mosburg said. The purpose is to prevent overcrowding or people standing around and mingling. Many of the chairs have been removed and stacked against the wall to encourage distancing for those who dine in. Plexiglas shields protect food servers and food.
Asked if they've had problems enforcing face-mask rules, Mosburg said, "Much less than I thought we would. Really I think there are only two students I've had to personally go and address, either right after a class or during a class." He said he and Matt Adair, assistant dean of student affairs, have dealt with very few problems regarding wearing masks.
"We've had to issue some tickets in the dorms for people we see that are not wearing masks. Our head residents and our RAs are issuing tickets, so we're enforcing it as much as we can inside facilities where a lot of that closeness is going to be happening," he said.
"We're trying to monitor that regularly. Matter of fact, I saw the stack of tickets that Matt had this morning."
Students living in the dorms are not allowed to have visitors in their rooms. Mosburg said they can entertain visitors in the main lobby areas but they must wear their masks.
"We've said in our housing policy no more than two people in a room, unless the room has a third resident that is there," Mosburg clarified. He said a few rooms are set up for three people, but even those have only two now. "It's pretty restrictive."
If a student is having symptoms or is concerned about possible exposure to the coronavirus, they generally get tested at the health department or the hospital in Alva. Mosburg said early on a few students chose to go home to get tested so they would have parents available to care for them. In the past six weeks, most students have stayed in Alva for tests.
If a student receives a positive result for the virus, it's up to them to notify the university. Mosburg said most notify his office, located in Ryerson Hall, but some have contacted a teacher about needing to miss class. In those cases, the instructor forwards the email or otherwise notifies Mosburg's office.
Then his staff follows up.
"We track the name, make sure we reach out to them and make sure they have been positive or are positive. Then we look to try to do our contact tracing as we communicate with them," he said. "We keep track of who those students are and who they've been around, things of that nature." While the state health department does contact tracing, NWOSU often has more information on roommates, classes, etc.
Mosburg and his staff spend quite a bit of time on the phone explaining quarantining protocols to students who have had positive tests or close contact with a person testing positive.
"If they tested positive, traditionally in most of the cases we've had, they've told them that it's a 10 day period after a positive test, or after the last symptom, whichever is later," he said. "If we have a student that has a cough and fever, if they then develop a lack of taste or smell, then 10 days after that point. Most of them, the symptoms they've had have been by the time they've had the test.
"We have had some where the health department or testing facility, the medical facility they've tested at, has told them, no you need to go the full 14 days." He said they try to obtain documentation from the medical provider that has been sent to the students.
According to the CDC, someone who is sick or has tested positive for COVID-19 without symptoms should be in isolation away from others, even in their own home. Those testing positive should stay home until after at least 10 days since symptoms first appeared and at least 24 hours with no fever without fever-reducing medication and symptoms have improved. Those showing no symptoms but testing positive should stay home for 10 days after the positive test.
A person who has had close contact with someone with COVID-19 should quarantine at home until 14 days after the last contact. It's recommended to check your temperature twice a day and watch for symptoms of COVID-19, and if possible stay away from people who are at higher-risk for getting very sick from COVID-19.
Quarantining on Campus
Mosburg and his staff provide quarantine advice to students living off the campus, but they have extra responsibilities for those living in campus dorms. Most dorm rooms have two occupants. "We try to separate the two of them if only one person has been in direct contact just so we can prevent any further spread there, and that's been a big help," he said. "Let's say both roommates have been in direct contact with the same person, we might isolate them together or quarantine them together. If we've got the space available, we separate them just so we can make sure it doesn't spread to anybody else."
Martin added, "Even when we've brought students back on campus, Calleb and Matt set aside a number of rooms for quarantine purposes so we could accommodate that."
Mosburg said, "We've been fortunate we've had the rooms and space to be able to do it. It's been manageable.
"So our communication with the student has been, you need to go get tested or quarantine 14 days, whichever." He said students must either show a negative test or quarantine 14 days before leaving their dorm room or returning to classes on campus.
Mosburg said that if a person has been in quarantine because of a close contact with someone who tested positive, after six to eight days they may go get a test. If that test is negative, they may return to classes.
When students are unable to attend classes during isolation or quarantine, students catch up with their classwork online. All of the dorms have wifi provided so students can communicate with instructors online. The instructors set up Zoom classes or post on the university's learning platform. Mosburg said if a student doesn't have a laptop, they can contact student services about checking one out during quarantine.
NWOSU will also deliver meals to those confined to dorm rooms. "If they're quarantined we will go down and deliver. The head resident and the RAs communicate out. So three meals a day if the students want a breakfast, lunch and dinner, they'll get their order for that meal, they'll pick it up, set it outside their door and let them know, text them and say it's here, and they'll get their meals," said Mosburg. "We've been trying to go above and beyond to make sure they're taken care of and communicating out. We stay in good communication."
The university posts information about active COVID-19 cases on their website, updating the numbers every Friday. Mosburg said the numbers change daily, but they consistently update the information on Friday. NWOSU President Dr. Janet Cunningham also has to submit a report on cases once a week to the regents' office.
All three locations are combined for the total number reported to the public. With the main campus in Alva, NWOSU has smaller satellite campuses in Enid and Woodward.
Martin said the reason for combining the numbers is to protect identities. "We have smaller branch campuses so if one student has it that really releases the identity of that student. We chose to keep it all together," she said. The total also includes concurrent students, those still in high school who are taking college level courses for credit. Some of those classes are held on the NWOSU campus while others are taught at the public schools.
The university also works closely with the state health department in tracking active cases. "We've worked with the health department from early on in the summer," Mosburg said. He has phone numbers for District 1 Regional Director Terri Salisbury) and District Nurse Lanette Terry handy on his desk. He said he averages about three calls a week with them. "We've sent them what our reopening plan was, had them review it and had communication with them about everything that we're doing.
"It's been a good partnership. They've been great to work with. We've been talking about the possibility of doing a flu clinic, hosting one of those, so we're kind of in some talks about eventually trying to do that here for the students on campus."
University staff members also check on students quarantined on campus. "Even President Cunningham is trying once a week to set aside time to call students that may be positive and having to isolate just making sure and checking on students. So between myself and her and, I know, our head residents and our RAs, we're trying to stay in good communication with the kids to make sure they're alright."
On Friday, Oct. 16, NWOSU posted they have nine active cases among students, but no employees have active cases. Last Friday, Oct. 9, the numbers were eight students and one employee. See http://www.nwosu.edu/coronavirus/active-covid19-cases-nwosu