Eastern Kentucky University has entered a partnership with the Madison County Health Department collectively responding to COVID-19 with contact tracing on campus.
COVID-19 contact tracing is an investigation process to determine an individual’s potential exposure and to eliminate spreading by controlled measures. EKU provided contact tracers to assist the Madison County Health Department in COVID-19 case investigations.
“This is a key process in slowing the spread of COVID-19 to protect ourselves and others in our community,” said Bryan Makinen, executive director of public safety and risk management.
EKU and the Madison County Health Department spent several months selecting contact tracers based on certain skill sets, such as processing confidential information, easy access and already trained to multiple systems on campus, experts in health services and public health, and individuals who are already embedded in certain populations on campus.
“The benefit to EKU having dedicated contact tracers is that they understand the interworkings of our community and have the ability to respond quickly and nimbly to protect our community at large,” said Makinen.
EKU has fourteen contact tracers coordinated by Karen Peavler. Contact tracers complete training according to the Kentucky Department for Public Health regional teams training matrix, consisting of nineteen classes complemented with EKU-specific training and Madison County Health Department training.
Successful contact tracing would include a reduction in the spread of COVID-19 in the community, identification of areas or activities that need reconfiguration to protect public health, preservation of critical operations to keep the economy open and linking those with symptoms to care or testing resources.
Contact tracers conduct interviews with known or presumed COVID-19 positive cases to determine what individuals they came in close contact with two days prior to being symptomatic or two days prior to testing positive.
EKU agrees with the CDC definition for close contact, an individual who is in six feet of an infected person for 15 minutes starting from two days before COVID-19 onset. Control measures for individuals who come in close contact are a period of self-quarantine and isolation, staying home and away from others.
EKU has reserved isolation and quarantine housing accommodations for on-campus students experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or those who have tested positive. EKU housing works with the university contact tracers to move individuals to designated spaces fast. Once the individual is isolated, a system is set in place for periodically monitoring progress, caring for essential needs and providing support to navigate the process.
Off-campus students who test positive for COVID-19 or are symptomatic, need to quarantine and isolate in their current off-campus setting until safe to return.
“I do not think that contact tracing will eliminate the spread of COVID-19 at EKU, but it can alert people who could be carrying the virus so that they can quarantine themselves and not pass it to other students on campus,” said junior communication disorders major from Lost Creek, Kaleigh Smith.
Aramark performs COVID-19 cleaning protocols every night in the library and classrooms and has increased the protocol to clean high-touch services.
Contact tracers determine where positive COVID-19 individuals have been, warranting special cleaning with Facilities Management to ensure spaces are clean according to CDC guidelines recommended for higher education.
“The steps EKU is taking are quite extensive in effort to keep their students safe,” said Smith.
EKU recognizes navigating the pandemic is a continual evolvement, the more national public leaders learn about COVID-19.
The EKU Counseling Center is ready to support students struggling to navigate during the pandemic, in being symptomatic or diagnosed with COVID-19. Contact EKU Counseling Center at 859-622-1303.
If you are personally experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, the Student Health Services on campus can provide evaluations remotely to help access your next steps and will administer tests for symptomatic students.