Berry introduces new health policies to limit COVID-19

Asa Daniels, Campus Carrier staff writer

 Junior Michaela Miller welcomes incoming freshmen to campus and guides them to the screening area in the Cage Center. Photo courtesy of Faith Cox

On July 24, 2020, President Steve Briggs and his office sent an email including numerous announcements, one of which was that all students at Berry would be tested for COVID-19. 

Throughout this time, Casee Gilbert, director of hospitality and event services, has been managing the testing for students. Debbie Heida, chief of staff, has been supervising the testing process. 

Prior to returning to campus, students were required to take a COVID-19 test. If a student is local, a commuter or already on campus, they were invited to take the test at Berry, Heida said. If they lived further away, students were sent a link to request a test through VaultHealth. VaultHealth is an online company that performs COVID-19 testing and diagnosing for both schools and companies. Participants are sent COVID-19 tests, which are taken at home and sent back to VaultHealth. Regardless of either option, students took saliva tests and were told to expect results within a few days. 

VaultHealth was chosen by Berry due to its history with doing testing at other higher-education institutions, according to Heida. 

“They’re doing lots of large campuses with 40,000-some students for Purdue [University], for example,” Heida said. 

The testing method itself, as Heida explained, was chosen since students were mailed their tests and could ship them directly to VaultHealth’s lab in New Jersey. 

“There are some campuses that are requiring students to go to Public Health or someplace else that has the nasal swab done and then [to] send their results in,” Heida said. “So, we decided this was a way we could do it that didn’t inconvenience students in having to do that or pay for it and get reimbursed.” 

According to Heida, it was also easier for Berry because VaultHealth controlled the testing process. There was no extra work for Berry’s administration when it came to administering and diagnosing the tests. 

There have been a few delays and other issues with tests, from recent hurricanes, problems with Zoom, shipping delays and students failing to promptly request their COVID-19 tests. If a student does not have their test results, they are not allowed onto campus, though they can attend their classes virtually. 

If a student’s test is positive, they are required to isolate, according to Health Center Director Emma Cordle. If a student has had potential exposure to a positive case, they must quarantine. 

Cordle explained that a major difference between the two is how long students must be away from others. Those who test positive must isolate for 10 days, while students in quarantine due to possible exposure must be quarantined for 14 days. 

“The reason for that is because of the incubation period,” Cordle said. “You’re most likely to test positive between day five and day 10.” 

This means that people who have COVID-19 could not be displaying symptoms. During this time, they could spread it to other members of campus, Cordle said. 

According to Heida, most students who have tested positive have chosen to return home. 

To help with tracking potential cases, Heida has hired a team of students who are certified as contact tracers, through the LifeWorks program. 

“They work with them [people who have tested positive] to identify who else they may have had sustained contact with and then those students need to quarantine,” Heida said. 

 Junior Vanessa Belanger begins the process to move back on to campus behind the Cage with Shakarah Boswell, admission counselor, and Ashley Demonbreun-Chapman, Berry project coordinator. Photo courtesy of Faith Cox

Heida explained that students with symptoms of COVID-19, tracked by logging their symptoms daily through the Medicat portal, are told to communicate with the Health Center about whether or not they need to be tested or isolated. 

“Any one [symptom], in and of itself, is not a red flag to say ‘oh my gosh, you may have COVID’, but specifically a combination of those things,” Heida said. “You really need to talk through the whole thing and not just make a single judgement.” 

While COVID-19 continues, there are still other health issues students may have on campus. In order to treat non- COVID-19 cases, the Health Center has a schedule to see COVID-19 cases in the morning and non-COVID-19 cases in the afternoon. They plan to continue this schedule into the fall semester. 

“College students have other health concerns and I want that to also be a priority in the Health Center,” Cordle said. 

According to Cordle, the containment process has been a challenging and evolving situation. She communicates weekly with the Floyd County Department of Health and the Health Center follows the adjusting CDC guidelines. 

The testing has also been a new challenge, Heida explained. 

“We’ve had to have maximum flexibility, particularly with move-in and those kinds of things,” Heida said. “Is it a good process overall? No, not without some lessons learned.” 

Berry will be able to do future testing on-campus throughout the semester if needed and Berry will be ready for a similar opening in the spring semester, Heida said. 

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