Gonzaga University’s COVID-19 Action Response Team (CART) has been focused on assisting students who test positive for COVID-19 or have come into contact with someone who has tested positive in a variety of ways. Here is a breakdown of what these approaches entail and how successful they have been.
CART members include contact tracers and a COVID-19 coordinator and lean on other campus areas to support students such as Housing & Residence Life, GU Dining Services and Academic Advising and Assistance.
“Each time CART has been operationalized, we continue to learn and make adjustments to better manage the process of isolation and quarantine and better support our students as they face a challenge that can be stressful,” said Kristiana Holmes, director of Health and Counseling Services.
GU has instituted four contact tracers who are staff members with backgrounds related to public health and who have training in contract tracing strategies. They identify, notify and support students who have been exposed to COVID-19 as well as those considered “close contacts” and handle the isolation and quarantine process.
“It’s not about getting anyone in trouble," said Eric Baldwin, assistant vice president and dean of Student Well-Being and Healthy Living. These conversations that happen with contact tracers are not to ferret out people that were not following public health directives. We don't care about that at this point. The most important part is for students to be honest with contact tracers."
The cumulative and current positives data on the COVID-19 Dashboard, Testing & Contact Tracing webpage is updated Monday through Friday by 5 p.m. For example, from Sept. 28 to Oct. 2, six on-campus students and four off-campus students tested positive and there are 11 current positive cases.
Holmes said the dashboard reflects GU’s actual positive cases. Others can be impacted by a positive case as well and are considered “close contacts.”
According to Holmes, a “close contact” is someone who has been within 6 feet of a COVID-19 positive individual for 15 minutes or more. Kent Porterfield, vice provost of student affairs, said students identified as close contacts are notified by a contact tracer of an exposure and advised to quarantine for 14 days.
Baldwin said GU has a positivity rate of just below 1% which is just about where Spokane County is. This shows community members and GU faculty that the student body has a consistent rate of positive cases on campus as in the community of Spokane.
“The cases that we have recently experienced are not considered an ‘outbreak,’ Holmes said. "We do know that we have cases of COVID-19 and will continue to have cases. This is not unexpected."
For the most part GU students are doing well at mitigating the spread of COVID-19.
“I would say right now, we are incredibly fortunate and we can attribute that to a lot of different things,” said Baldwin who runs the testing coordination program. “Our students in large are really taking this seriously and they know what is at risk.”
In addition to GU’s identified isolation spaces and one off-campus facility, some students are able to isolate or quarantine where they already are. Holmes said this is dependent on access to private spaces such as bedrooms and bathrooms.
“We respect the privacy of individuals in these circumstances. However, we fully acknowledge that students may be sharing this information on their own,” Holmes said when asked about recent positive cases in various dorms around campus.
There are four methods of testing available on campus that are in place to identify cases early and mitigate the spread of COVID-19, according to Holmes.
GU is working with Institutional Research on a weekly basis to provide random COVID-19 testing among the students on and off campus. The selection process for random testing is also known as surveillance testing.
Baldwin said that together, GU and Institutional Research have come up with an algorithm in which 10% of students in each residence hall are tested a week.
“Each week everybody's name goes right back into the hat and that is what causes some confusion for people,” Baldwin said.
Every week 230 student names are generated for on -campus surveillance testing and 280 student names are generated for off-campus. GU is averaging 600 random tests a week in order to keep students on campus safe from spreading the virus.
Surveillance testing has identified students who were asymptomatic and did not know they contracted COVID-19 until they are selected for random testing by the university.
“Surveillance testing has been successful and we have been able to meet our current target of a 10-15% yield,” Holmes said. “We continue to look at best practices for testing strategies as these evolve. It is possible that we may have shifted in testing over time, but currently, we are not considering testing every student.”
Baldwin said GU is looking for other resources that allow for the testing of more students and provide quicker results.
Other types of testing include walk-in clinics and Sick Symptoms and Exposure (SSE).
The walk-in clinic is located at 729 E. Boone Ave. and is open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. for students who are not sick but still want to be tested. GU students do not need an appointment and are expected to get results within 36 to 48 hours of being tested.
The SSE model of testing is given to students who are showing symptoms of COVID-19. In order to be tested through SSE, students must have appointments set up through the Health and Counseling Center. Baldwin said that like other services provided through the Health Center, there is a small charge for students, but insurance should cover it.
The last method is targeted testing, conducted under the guidance of the Spokane Regional Health District, focusing on epidemiological links when another spread is suspected.
As the pandemic continues and students learn to live their college life with COVID-19 present, figuring out how to build the GU community virtually is the next step for GU.
“I think we are really going to have to be focused on being filled with grace, filled with understanding, filled with patience and that presuppositional thinking makes us different from other universities,” Baldwin said.