As we move through the third week of the semester, there are several key updates for our community related to the evolution of testing, our reporting of data, contact tracing, quarantine/isolation efforts, and other components of our strategy to navigate COVID-19 at UNCG together. Here are a few of the key updates:
Expansion of Testing
As the pandemic has evolved, so has the availability of testing. Beginning this week, we will host a series of testing clinics targeted toward different populations in our campus community. These clinics will be for asymptomatic individuals (because we know people can have the virus and not feel sick) and will help us to identify potential areas of risk related to the presence of COVID-19 on our campus.
While Student Health Services has been able to provide testing for symptomatic students and their close contacts since the spring, we have not yet been able to do more expanded testing of asymptomatic individuals in our campus community. This expanded testing program will provide a more comprehensive perspective on the health of our University community now that we have been in session for several weeks. The partner we are working with will submit claims with insurance, and regardless of coverage, there will be no charge for testing.
Given the size of our community, we will take this process in phases, focusing first on groups whose living or working environments are believed to put them at greater risk. We will focus on specific residence halls initially, particularly those with shared bathrooms, and certain student affinity groups. Individuals in the targeted groups will receive invitations to register for the events as they are scheduled.
There are multiple methods for collecting samples for COVID-19 testing. For this week’s testing clinic, samples will be collected through a nasal swab. Testing is strictly limited to individuals who do not have symptoms of COVID and have not been identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive. Testing for students with symptoms, or those who are close contacts, is available every day, including weekends, at Student Health Services by calling (336) 334-5340 for an appointment. Employees with symptoms or who are close contacts should continue to access an off-campus testing site convenient to them and complete a Self-Reporting form in the Case Management System as needed.
Positive results, regardless of where testing takes place, are required by law to be reported to public health officials, who then alert us to cases impacting our campus. Counts of confirmed reports of positive cases will be shared through our COVID-19 Dashboard, which is updated daily, Monday-Friday. In adherence with FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and HIPAA (Health Information Portability and Accountability Act) regulations, details of individual cases are not available on the dashboard.
Our outstanding Emergency Management team is leading the effort to gather data, manage contact tracing, and monitor the status of all cases that affect our campus.
UNCG is using an emergency management tool that was specifically designed for these kinds of events with sophisticated capabilities that enable us to summarize and create reports for internal monitoring purposes of our cases in multiple ways – by location, affinity group, class, isolation/quarantine status, etc. We update our summary dashboard daily, Monday-Friday. Prior to the daily update, the Emergency Management Team does a manual review to ensure that the numbers are accurate. Guilford County Public Health also reviews our data to monitor the number of positive cases and assist when possible with contact tracing.
This case management system receives information from three sources: self-reports, Student Health Services, and local public health agencies. Students, faculty, staff, and contractors are asked to inform us when they have COVID-like symptoms, have tested positive for COVID-19, or have been identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive. We are grateful to our students, faculty, and staff who to this point have done a remarkably good job of observing the safety standards and participating in the self-reporting process when needed.
Student Health Services automatically inputs positive test results from students who seek care through their office into the case management system. When local public health agencies become aware through their case investigation that an individual who has tested positive has a connection to our campus, they alert the University, and that case is entered into our case management system.
When there are multiple entries related to the same case (e.g., a student self-reports and Student Health creates a report), the entries are linked as one case. The case management system allows us to update cases as new information becomes available. It also allows us to track positive cases that occur among students or employees who are in proximity to each other (e.g., through living or learning environment, work environment, affinity group) and determine if and when, in conjunction with Guilford County Public Health, a group of cases should be defined and reported as a cluster.
As previously communicated, we have an active, thorough contact tracing process and are in regular contact with county health officials as needed. When an individual (student or employee) has tested positive for COVID-19, UNCG staff will conduct an interview with that individual to determine exposure possibilities such as class schedule, work colleagues, and so on. With that knowledge, the University will ask close contacts of the individual on campus to quarantine. Other measures, such as intensified cleaning of potentially affected areas, will also be initiated.
For contact tracing to work, participants must be thorough and honest. We ask all in our community to do their part. Failure to provide honest, accurate information can fuel the spread of COVID-19 and make more people sick.
UNCG will conduct contact tracing to identify and notify close contacts within the UNCG community, and share this information with Guilford County Public Health. Individuals who test positive will also be contacted by Guilford County Public Health for a more comprehensive case investigation interview and to identify those in the larger community who may have been exposed.
Quarantine and Isolation
Quarantine keeps someone who was in close contact with a person who has tested positive with COVID-19 away from others. Isolation keeps someone who has symptoms and/or tested positive (with or without symptoms) away from others, even others in their home. For more information on the differences between quarantine and isolation, view this sheet. Students may quarantine or isolate on- or off-campus. UNCG has established 148 on-campus rooms appropriate for isolation or quarantine as needed.
The available rooms and usage percentage are tracked on our COVID-19 Dashboard. These rooms are single rooms with a private bath, with the exception of situations where students from the same room, suite, or apartment may be able to quarantine together in a shared space. We support these students by delivering food and other supplies, checking on them frequently, and monitoring their symptoms.
Should students break their quarantine or isolation, they will be subject to the Student Code of Conduct. Employees may also be subject to disciplinary action should they fail to comply with quarantine and isolation directives.
For employees, our case management system will send an automatic email to the employee and the supervisor on the individual’s last day of quarantine. Employees must have documentation from a public health or medical professional that they are cleared to return to work.
Similarly, students will receive a similar email on their last day of quarantine, and must be cleared by a public health or medical official to return to campus activities.
Social Distancing in Classrooms and Work Areas Update
A tremendous amount of work went into reconfiguring classrooms this summer to create more distance between students, and between students and faculty, and to reconfigure course sections and reassign classrooms accordingly. As guidance has evolved and needs have become more clearly identified, we have engaged in the process of locating larger classrooms for the approximately 135 course sections that were at, or close to, their maximum capacity. In addition, our team has located larger classrooms at the request of faculty for specific classes and we will continue to make every effort to be flexible with space as needed. Also, as previously stated, our facilities team has assessed the ventilation in all buildings, cleaned filters, and set air circulation systems to support our health and safety efforts.
While arriving for class and leaving may still create a certain level of activity with students in closer proximity, it is important to understand that simply walking by someone on the way in or out of a classroom is not considered “close contact,” and therefore is a low-risk situation per CDC guidance and existing data, particularly when everyone is wearing a face covering.
The same is true for employees working on campus. Walking by someone in an office or working in the same building as a co-worker is not considered “close contact.”
UNCG’s average face-to-face class currently includes fewer than 17 students, and so even at these moments the number of individuals entering or leaving a classroom is relatively limited.
In general, our campus is much less dense due to the number of classes moved online and the reduced capacity in any given classroom.
As stated by the CDC and others, because individuals with COVID-19 may not show any symptoms even when they are contagious, the best approach is to act as if everyone with whom you may be in contact could have the virus and practice the appropriate safety measures – wearing a face covering, social distancing, and hand washing.
Data Driven Decisions
As previously stated, on Friday, August 21, UNCG is continuing operations as previously outlined. UNC System President Peter Hans has made it clear that operational decisions will be made discretely at each campus based on collaborative discussions between the campus, the UNC System office, and public health officials. If data, including metrics like multiple clusters, indicates we should change plans and move instruction to an online-only environment, or make other operational or academic adjustments, we will do so without hesitation and communicate quickly.