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Phoenix 101: How Contact Tracing Works at Loyola

Zack Miller | The PhoenixWith the delta variant spreading throughout the country as well, Loyola continues to align with some CDC guidelines. However, some students wish that the university would take additional precautions.

Masks, vaccines and controlled entryways are just some of the ways the university is preventing the spread of COVID-19. 

But what happens after a positive case is reported? 

Director of Loyola’s Wellness Center, Joan Holden, said this is where contact tracing comes into play. The Phoenix looked into how contract tracing works at Loyola and what students can expect after getting notified about a close contact testing positive. 

What is contact tracing? 

Contact tracing is a process in which the close contacts of a positive case are identified in order to prevent the spread of an infectious disease within a community, Holden said. A close contact is anyone who was within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Holden described contact tracing as a proven method of combating infectious diseases. In the past it has been used to fight other major outbreaks such as in 2014 when the CDC utilized contact tracing to successfully isolate and remove cases of Ebola from communities in Africa.

“Contact tracing is a tried and true method of public health measures to control communicable disease outbreaks,” Holden said.

courtesy of Loyola University Chicago

What happens when a positive case is reported on campus? 

When a case is reported to the Wellness Center — either self-reported or through SHIELD Illinois, the organization that handles Loyola’s COVID-19 surveillance testing — a COVID-19 care coordinator (CCC) is assigned to the case, according to Holden. The CCC will then contact the infected person and work with the person to identify close contacts. 

Holden said these CCCs are trained using a Johns Hopkins University course. The course covers the history of COVID-19, contact tracing techniques, timeline of infections and ethical matters with regard to contact tracing. They also undergo Health Insurance Portability and Accessibility Act (HIPAA) training to ensure confidentiality of those infected, according to Holden.

The CCC will also determine whether that person was in a classroom in the 48 hours before the positive test. From there, the CCC will alert the professors that there was a positive test and request a seating chart. Those sitting within six feet of the COVID positive student will be notified. 

Students who test positive and live on campus will then be placed in isolation for 10 days in a special COVID-19 dorm, The Phoenix previously reported. Meanwhile students who live off campus won’t have to move.

All students who test positive will have their IDs deactivated for building access during their isolation period, Holden said.  

What happens if a close contact tests positive for COVID-19? 

If a close contact tests positive, one of two things could happen depending on the student’s vaccine status, according to Holden. Unvaccinated students are required to quarantine for seven days after coming into contact with a COVID-19 positive individual. They will be tested seven to 10 days after exposure.

Vaccinated students won’t have to quarantine and will instead be required to test three to five days after exposure. Both vaccinated and unvaccinated students will also monitor for symptoms for 14 days after their exposure. 

Those who are vaccinated can still test positive, become symptomatic and spread the virus; however the vaccine protects against severe infection and death, according to the CDC.

Less than 1% of Loyola students received exemptions for Loyola’s vaccination requirement, according to Holden. Forty-one students were granted exemptions after a “demand letter” was sent to Loyola using the legal services of Liberty Council, a Christian non-profit, The Phoenix reported.

Will I be notified if someone in my class gets COVID-19?

Holden said unless you sit next to a person who tests positive for COVID-19, then you will not be notified about it since you aren’t considered a close contact. 

“If someone tests positive in a classroom, but they sit really far away from that person they don’t have to be contacted because they weren’t a defined close contact,” Holden said. 

What are the limits to contact tracing? 

Some of the limits to contact tracing include public transit and the intercampus shuttle, Holden said. Unless students are able to identify who they rode with then there’s no way to contact trace. 

As for other buildings Holden said contact tracers work off the names given by the student. 

“Contact tracers connect with close contacts,” Holden said. “If a COVID positive student has a close contact in Damen and the student knows the name, the tracing will be done.” 

Is there confidentiality in contact tracing?

Holden said at no point are the identities of the students who tested positive revealed to any of their close contacts. This is because HIPAA requires the CCCs to keep the identities of those who tested positive private.

Holden also mentioned while software exists to electronically contact trace, in the interest of student privacy, Loyola didn’t take this route. 

“The problem with that is that your privacy can be compromised when you have those apps, so we chose not to do that,” Holden said. “We chose to go with the tried and true method of contact tracing.” 

Has contact tracing worked? 

Holden said while there was a bump in cases after Labor Day, the positivity rate at Loyola has remained low and said she thought they were doing a good job. 

“Even when we have a little bump in our or our positivity rate, we put those people in isolation that needed to go into isolation, we did our contact tracing,” Holden said. “I think that we did a very good job.” 

Loyola’s positivity rate is .55% as of Sept. 27, according to Loyola’s testing dashboard. This dashboard, however, doesn’t include positive tests from a third party provider and can be updated after lab testing.

What are some other ways of preventing COVID-19? 

Holden said it’s important for students to report any positive tests to The Wellness Center as soon as they get them so that contact tracing can begin.

Students can report tests either by email to COVID-19report@luc.edu or by calling (773)-508-7707.

In addition to this, Holden said masks were still instrumental to stunting the spread of COVID-19, even in vaccinated students.

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