Loyola Ends Contact Tracing Efforts, Gives Faculty Guidance on New COVID-19 Rules for Spring

Zack Miller | The PhoenixIn an email only sent to Loyola faculty the university announced it has suspended its contact tracing efforts just a day before classes resume for the Spring 2022 semester.

This article has been updated to include additional information from Loyola.

Loyola said it suspended contract tracing efforts Jan. 14 and quietly announced other changes in COVID-19 procedures for in-person classes in an email to the university’s faculty Jan. 17. 

Select classes will start in-person Jan. 18, including labs, clinicals and experiential classes, while the majority of Loyola’s classes will be carried out online until Jan. 31, The Phoenix reported.

The university will no longer require instructors to keep a seating chart or take attendance during the spring semester, as they were told to during the fall term. This change comes as Loyola has suspended its contact tracing effort as of Jan. 14, according to the university’s email. 

“Given the high transmission rate of the Omicron variant in Chicago, contact tracing is not pragmatic or effective at this time,” Margaret Faut Callahan, Loyola’s provost and chief academic advisor, wrote in the email.

Loyola’s test-positivity rate currently sits at 4.3% according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard, although that doesn’t reflect the actual number of Loyola students with current COVID-19 infections as there were a reduced number of students on campus during winter break and Loyola doesn’t report tests confirmed by other testing sites

In recent months the positivity rate has been as high as 11%, The Phoenix reported. The City of Chicago is currently averaging 4,378 daily COVID-19 cases, with a test positivity-rate of 17.4%, according to city data.

“Loyola’s COVID Care Coordinators will prioritize supporting those who have tested positive at this time,” Anna Shymanski Zach, a university spokesperson, said. “Anyone concerned about exposure to COVID-19 can test as often as they would like for free on all three of Loyola’s campuses.”

Shymanski Zach said the university continues to evaluate COVID-19 data daily and plans to update the Loyola community as changes to COVID mitigation are made.

Jeffrey Fisher, a Loyola professor in the philosophy department, gave his initial reaction to the change in policy.

“My impression is that, in most cases, Loyola has tended to err on the side of caution with regard to COVID precautions, at least relative to other universities,” Fisher said. “And so when they say that contact tracing would not be pragmatic or effective at this time, I am not inclined to think that this is a rash or incautious judgment.” 

However some students, including senior Morgan Smith, said they were confused by the decision to end contact tracing.

“The fact they aren’t doing it right now when COVID rates are the highest is just bad timing,” said Smith, a biology major. “When I got COVID in December, everyone who sat by me got an email telling them to get tested, and while it’s a scary email to receive I think it’s good to let people know.”

“It’s kind of bizarre, I don’t see what the harm in doing it is,” said senior Eric Moran, a journalism and marketing double major. “We are doing two weeks online, which shows they are taking things seriously, so this is confusing.”

The email went on to explain that professors don’t need to offer simultaneous in-person and online instruction for students who miss class due to isolation for COVID-19. Instead, faculty are supposed to work with sick students to make sure they can keep up with the course while they are out.

“We encourage you to continue to build flexibility into your course materials in case you or your students fall ill,” Callahan said in the announcement.

The email reminded faculty to have their Sakai pages and resources ready for the beginning of the semester. The university explained that this will continue to be important as the semester progresses, as when classes return in-person they may need to be temporarily moved online again if a professor were to fall ill with COVID-19.

“Students, faculty, and staff who test positive for COVID-19 should still report their case to the University but will be responsible for notifying close contacts on their own,” Shymanski Zach. “They should encourage close contacts who have been exposed to monitor symptoms and test 5 days after exposure.”

Shymanski Zach encouraged students uncomfortable with identifying themselves to close contacts to use anonymous alert platforms like Tell Your Contacts.

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