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Drake Contact Tracing Team gets to work; students worry about communication, transparency

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Despite increased communication from Drake University administrators, some students still feel their concerns are being ignored when it comes to COVID-19 on campus. While some students have had positive experiences with the Drake Contact Tracing Team, others report confusion and lack of transparency when it comes to self-reporting and receiving care.

 The goal of the Drake Contact Tracing Team is to ensure students infected with COVID-19 have the information they need to safely isolate and identify contacts with other individuals. Students who test positive for COVID-19 or who experience unexplained COVID symptoms will be contacted by a member of the CTT, according to Drake’s Quarantine and Isolation Frequently Asked Questions website. After identifying contacts, individuals who have been exposed to a confirmed case will be informed by the CTT of the need to quarantine.

According to the leader of Drake’s contact tracing efforts, Chief of Staff Nate Reagen, the CTT includes eight members, all of whom have received training through Johns Hopkins University. For context, the contact tracing team at the University of Notre Dame, which has a student population of 8,624, has nine members. Additionally, Reagen notes that Drake already has an additional eight people who can be added to the team immediately if it becomes necessary to grow the team.

Sophomore Liz Emmert, who lives in Jewett Hall, was contacted by the CTT on Sept. 1 after being identified as a contact. She spent time talking to Reagen via phone to discuss what her quarantine period would look like and how she would receive meals and complete coursework. Emmert appreciated the quick responses and support she received from Reagen and the CTT. 

“Without all of the stress and worrying on if I would test negative and whatnot, it was pretty straightforward and the team was incredibly patient,” Emmert said in an email.

Emmert chose to get tested on Wednesday, Sept. 2 through Test Iowa, and ended up testing negative. Despite being identified as a contact through contact tracing, Emmert said Drake didn’t suggest that she get tested, only to keep an eye on her health. This is in line with the contact tracing protocol designed by John Hopkins University. 

While students like Emmert report positive experiences with the contact tracing team, others are frustrated due to a lack of speedy communication and transparency on how to report results. 

Sophomore Natalie Novak felt her first symptom on Tuesday, Sept. 1. At this time, Novak called the Student Health Center, but said she was told she couldn’t be tested on campus because she was symptomatic. However, Reagen says symptomatic testing has been available since July 9. Janet Fink of the Student Health Center confirmed symptomatic testing should have been available.

As a student without a car on campus, Novak was unsure how to get tested. She called Director of Environmental Health and Safety, Chris Nickell, who informed her that they would have to move her into Ross immediately if she was to get a test on campus. 

At this point, Novak was unsure if her symptoms were truly COVID related or if they were a result of seasonal allergies or the combined effects of her medication and her coffee. Instead of having Novak immediately move into Ross, Nickell said that he would call her back in the morning to check-in. Nickell did not call back until Novak emailed him again on Thursday. 

Nickell again offered Novak the opportunity to be tested on campus , with the caveat that she would have to move into Ross immediately. By now, Novak had already made arrangements to be tested elsewhere. She also worried that moving into Ross prematurely would cause her to contract the virus.

On Sunday, Novak got tested through Walgreens, and received her results in an hour: positive. For five days, Novak had lived in Goodwin-Kirk Residence Hall with COVID-19. Since Novak had not yet tested positive, had no contacts with anyone who tested positive and did not have any unexplained symptoms, she had not been identified at that time for contact tracing protocol.  Therefore, Novak was never informed on how to request meals, and was therefore going to the dining hall as usual.

“It just really does not look good for Drake,” Novak said. “I called on Tuesday, they didn’t get back to me until after I emailed them Thursday, even though they said they would call me back on Wednesday, I ended up with no help from the university and no help getting a test. And then I ended up testing positive five days later, after living in the residence hall.”

Upon receiving her results, Novak first emailed Nickell and Dean of Students Jerry Parker. After an hour, she still had not received a response. During that time, Novak called the COVID Response Team number and Assistant Dean of Students Tony Tyler. When both of those calls went unanswered, Novak finally turned to Public Safety, who were able to move the process along and help her move in to Ross. Novak has since been removed from isolation.

 “It was difficult for me to figure out who to contact,” Novak said. “And I guess maybe since it was a weekend, that’s why [they weren’t] so fast to get back to me. That hour 45 minutes was nerve-wracking because I was like, what if they don’t get back to me?”

Reagen confirmed that the CCT operates all week long. Other students, such as Emmert, have reported quick response times. 

“We try to respond to cases within an hour, and often much sooner than that, including nights and weekends,” Reagen said in an email. “Contacts are notified immediately after our interview with the person who has a confirmed case of COVID-19.”

In addition to increased transparency surrounding who to contact, Novak also believes Drake should offer more testing and make testing options more clear to students, especially those without a car on campus. Currently, Drake is conducting weekly random sample testing. A campus-wide COVID-19 Drake Update email from the Emergency Operations Center on Sept. 14 notes that, “One person out of the 129 random samples taken tested positive for COVID-19.” That one student is currently in isolation off-campus. The goal for the first two-week cycle was to test 216 students. 

The recent EOC email also revealed other important data points. This release of data comes after weeks of students demanding more transparency from Drake administration. The Times-Delphic organized a petition calling for the release of raw case numbers which received more than 1,500 signatures from students and community members. As of Sept. 14, Drake reports twelve off-campus students had tested positive or were presumed positive for COVID-19. As of Monday morning, no students are in on-campus isolation and all 96 on-campus isolation rooms are available.  

The email also states that there are 132 students in quarantine; 43 on-campus and 89 off-campus. For more information on contact tracing and the quarantine/isolation process at Drake, visit https://www.drake.edu/coronavirus/faq/quarantine-isolation/.

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