Berry implements contact tracing to slow spread of COVID-19

Taylor Corley, Campus Carrier editor-in-chief

Ross Bryant, Campus Carrier staff writer

In July, Berry announced a foundational plan to manage and maintain the spread of the coronavirus as students returned to campus this fall. President Steve Briggs stated in an email to the Berry community that in order to monitor the risk of sustained, direct contact, the procedures put in place would focus specifically on minimizing, monitoring and containing spread of the virus. 

One of the ways in which the administration planned to contain the spread was through means of a contact tracing. The Georgia Department of Public Health defines contact tracing as “the process of quickly identifying, assessing and managing people who have been exposed to a disease to prevent additional transmission.” Berry has implemented a team of students who work closely with registered nurses from the Berry Health Center to head the contact tracing initiative. 

Senior Daniel Hanberry, student director of contact tracing, says his job includes identifying, assessing and managing cases. 

“Me and my team’s main job is to identify close contact of confirmed cases, issue quarantine instructions, make sure that they’re put in touch with services who can provide free testing, food and water during quarantine, and mitigating any issues that may arise,” Hanberry said. 

The team of contact tracers consists of seven students who are required to complete a free, five to six hour course offered by Johns Hopkins University. The course is divided into different modules that cover the basics of COVID- 19 and contact tracing, how to balance the protection of the public’s health while maintaining someone’s privacy and how to communicate effectively with cases and contacts throughout the process. 

“Stuff like helping them get through calls, know how to take exposure calls, know how to comfort people in high stress situations are sprinkled in to be sure they’re able to work autonomously and independently,” Hanberry said. 

In the Johns Hopkins course, participants learn how to examine each case individually in order to decipher which symptoms, or combinations of symptoms, are red flags. 

“A lot of it is on a case-by-case basis and if there’s one thing I’ve learned very fast it’s that it’s hard to put people’s level of contact or what they’re experiencing into specific categories” Hanberry said. 

According to Melanie Merrin, associate director of the Health Center, if a student is experiencing symptoms, they are encouraged not to attend classes. 

“The Medicat report is supposed to be your excuse note if you are having symptoms,” Merrin said. “We do not want you coming to class sick. In the past, I know that the professors would ask you to go to the Health Center and get a note, but that’s not necessarily practical.” 

Hanberry noted the symptom tracker also helps the contact tracing team identify potential positive cases on campus. If the team of contact tracers deem that an individual’s symptoms could put other students at risk for COVID-19, they will be asked to temporarily isolate. 

“If you are experiencing all those symptoms and your test comes back negative, you’re free to go and we don’t have to isolate you or quarantine you,” Hanberry said. “If you come back with a test that is positive for coronavirus, we enter into what’s called an extended isolation period.” 

The difference between isolation and quarantine is crucial, according to Hanberry. 

“Isolation is a measure issued to people either temporarily who are symptomatic pending a test result or to confirmed cases for coronavirus,” Hanberry said. “And those people are put in a minimum 10-day isolation period.” 

During that time students are asked to remain in their dorms, only leaving for immediate medical attention, to use the bathroom or to get tested. While awaiting test results, the contact tracing team calls to check-in on them and monitors their symptoms daily. 

Quarantine is longer than isolation, lasting 14 days, and generally includes a wider spectrum of students and is more commonly seen if there is an outbreak. 

“Largely across campus, if anything ever happens, you’re going to see quarantine,” Hanberry said. “If someone is in quarantine they do not have a confirmed case of coronavirus. We are simply taking those people out of the working population so that on the off chance they develop symptoms and they develop COVID-19 they do not pose a larger threat.” 

If students who are experiencing symptoms but have not had direct contact with a positive case receive negative test results, they will be released from temporary isolation. Otherwise, according to Hanberry, students with a positive test who are in isolation and students who are in quarantine because they have had direct contact with a positive case must complete the entirety of their given isolation or quarantine, which is dependent upon their last date of exposure. 

“No amount of testing can end a quarantine period early,” Hanberry said. “The nature of the virus is that it’s incubation period within a human body is anywhere from two to 14 days. When we talk to a positive case, we get the entire list of names of people they’ve interacted with during their infectious period and the date of each person’s contact.” 

Students who feel they are experiencing COVID-19 related symptoms or become aware that they have had contact with someone who tests positive for the virus are highly encouraged to reach out to the contact tracing team at (706)-236-2267. All information reported remains entirely confidential. 

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