By Madeline Alvarez, Editor-In-Chief
Although students and faculty were hoping for a coronavirus-free semester, the first case of the virus on campus was confirmed on Aug. 25, the second day of classes. As of Wednesday, there were four positive cases reported in the Newman community. Here’s what you need to know about the university’s plan to keep COVID-19 under control:
Positive cases emerge
Dean of Students Christine Schneikart-Luebbe said that as soon as Newman learned that there might be a positive case on campus, the university got in contact with its lead epidemiologist to ask for advice.
Since the student kept her mask on and kept six feet apart from others on campus, Schneikart-Luebbe said, the epidemiologist said that she did not put others at risk of catching the virus. The student was then moved to quarantine so that she did not expose anyone to COVID-19 and then moved to isolation when she found out that she tested positive.
Schneikart-Luebbe said that quarantine and isolation are essentially the same thing but that the term “isolation” is used when someone is ill, and quarantine is used to describe someone waiting for results.
She said that meals will be delivered to the students’ room when they are in quarantine or isolation.
“We’re going to deliver your meals if you’re on campus outside your door,” Schneikart-Luebbe said. “We’re going to knock. You’re not even going to open the door until we’ve left. We’re going to do a lot of texting and Zooming, but we don’t want you to have any contact with anybody else.”
Schneikart-Luebbe said that it’s important to understand that the protocols were not created to punish anyone.
“They were put there to be educational and to remind everyone that the health and safety of our community is preeminent,” she said.
Newman President Kathleen Jagger said that the Sedgwick County Health Department will do contract tracing on positive cases.
“Once it’s reported to them, then they will take care of identifying other possible people that might have been exposed and letting them know,” she said.
She said that the department keeps the names of the people who test positive confidential when reaching out for contact tracing. If the department contacts you, it will say that you may have been exposed, that you probably need to be tested and that you should quarantine.
“That’s the way we avoid having big clusters of cases,” Jagger said.
Schneikart-Luebbe said that the precautions the university has put in place to protect against the coronavirus include mandatory mask wearing and requiring everyone to maintain a distance of at least six feet from each other at all times.
“It’s a requirement that you have a mask on when you’re on campus, even when you’re outside. And it’s a requirement that you retain six feet between you and the next person. It’s not an ‘or,’ it’s an ‘and.’ I think there might be some confusion about that,” she said.
Jagger said that wearing a mask is like wearing a seatbelt.
“You’re trying to protect from damage that may never happen,” she said. “If we do everything we can…the number of cases will at least be minimized.”
Watching out for others
Jagger said it’s important to remember that the virus can be dangerous to anyone, not only specific groups of people.
“Think about your classmates, too,” she said. “Students that are vulnerable. It’s not visible, but maybe they have an autoimmune disease, or maybe they’ve been treated for cancer in the last year and their immune system is not very strong…People of all ages have risk factors that can make them succumb to the virus. We don’t always know who’s the most vulnerable. And so we don’t want to put anybody at risk.”
There are also two forms that students, faculty and staff should be signing every day before and after coming to campus, she said.
The form that should be filled out before someone comes to campus is the daily health screening tool, which can be accessed at newmanu.formstack.com/forms/self_screen_tool.
“I have a little Post-It note on my screen that reminds me every day when I get here, and it’s really just a routine. It’s a habit we want people to get into,” Schneikart-Luebbe said.
The form to fill out before someone leaves campus is the daily contacts form, available at newmanu.formstack.com/forms/daily_contacts.
Schneikart-Luebbe said that this form will help with contact tracing.
“You just put the names of the people with whom you’ve had contact, so that should we have to move to contact tracing in working with the local officials, we have access to that information…” she said.
If a student lives on campus and needs to be quarantined or isolated, Schneikart-Luebbe said, they have the choice between moving to Merlini Hall or going home.
“We are not forcing anyone to stay, but we will provide accommodations for both quarantining and isolating inwardly...” she said.
If they don’t reside on campus, Newman would prefer they stay at home, but Schneikart-Luebbe said if the student was concerned for the health of a family member, something might be able to be worked out for them to come stay in Merlini.
No magic number
Jagger said there is no “magic number” that would make Newman have to shut down. She said that if Merlini were to be filled up, the university would most likely have to go online, but she does not expect that to happen. If the positive test rate in Sedgwick County were to reach 15%, campus would most likely have to close, she said.
Schneikart-Luebbe said that she has talked to colleagues around the country and that Newman has the least amount of positive cases out of the friends she’s talked to so far.
“I take great pride in that,” she said. “And I think that is a testament to people taking this seriously and understanding and valuing the community with which we live.”
PHOTO: Courtesy Photo, kana.com