Faculty Senate talks COVID on campus

Adam Tumino, Editor-in-Chief

The Faculty Senate met via Zoom on Tuesday afternoon, with the second half of the meeting being a discussion of COVID-19 on campus.

Following committee reports and updates, guest speakers Eric Davidson, Interim Director of Health and Counseling Services, and Sheila Simons, a public health professor and graduate coordinator working with Eastern’s contact tracing efforts, joined the meeting to give the senate an idea of how testing and contact tracing are progressing this semester.

Simons updated how many people have had to be quarantined dating back to the summer.

“I was just looking at my list earlier, and if we’re looking at the current number of people I’ve put in quarantine since July 1, 472 people,” Simons said.

She said that of these 472 people, some became cases and needed to be isolated. Quarantine lasts 14 days and is for people who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive. Positive cases are treated differently.

“When we have cases, cases are put in to isolation for a period of 10 days, and that is determined either from the date they were swabbed if they’re asymptomatic, or the day that they developed symptoms if they’re symptomatic,” Simons said.

Simons added that sometimes symptoms last longer than 10 days, but Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines allow for isolation to end if the subject does not have a fever for 24 hours and the symptoms are improving by the 10th day.

According to Simons, there have also been instances of people breaking quarantine, and she said she received four reports of people doing so on Tuesday alone.

Davidson said there are several entry points for people on campus regarding testing and contact tracing. Some people, often students who commute from other counties, self-report positive tests that they received from a health department in their home county.

He also said that people who get tested at the clinic on campus allows for the results to be handled by Eastern health officials right away instead of waiting for the results to go through an outside health department first.

Additionally, Davidson said that some students are getting tested off campus to Carle Foundation Hospital or Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center, and that can create a delay between the test results being received and the student being isolated by Eastern.

“If a student has a positive test result, physicians at those two entities are calling the student to let them know that they’re positive,” Davidson said. “Well, there’s a lag time. The student may know hours, if not even longer, before Sheila knows or I know that they’ve been positive.”

He said that once Eastern finds out about the positive result, they send out an academic notice. But the lag time can make that difficult.

“If you have a student that starts feeling ill on Monday, and they wait until Wednesday to go get tested, and it takes a day or two to get the test results and they come in late Friday afternoon, you’re probably not going to have a notice sent out until Monday morning,” Davidson said. “By that point in time, almost a week has gone by that they’ve been positive.

As far as where students are contracting COVID-19, Simons said that she has not seen any cases that seem to have originated in classrooms or in most places on campus.

“What I’m finding on campus is that people are not getting sick or contracting COVID in the classrooms, in the buildings. It’s not happening,” Simons said. “When I look at these cases, where are they from? They’re from off-campus gatherings and from one campus group of individuals.”

Davidson added that he was worrying about clusters centered around residence halls, but so far that has not been the case.

“The students living on campus are doing a phenomenal job,” Davidson said. “By this point in time in the game, I was really fearful that we would start seeing clusters based upon residence, so you would start seeing it on a particular floor or a particular residence hall, and we have not really seen that.”

Simons said that, in addition to masking, washing hands and socially distancing, people should wear eye protection if they need to be around people for an extended period of time, as was the case with several protests and rallies that happened earlier in the semester.

“As those protests happen, people are wearing masks, but we also need for them to wear eye protection,” Simons said. “People take off their masks, they yell, that saliva is projected, we’re looking 24 to 26 feet when that happens. So we want to be sure that people are protecting their eyes as well.”

Simons said that washing your hands with soap and water is preferable to using hand sanitizer.

“Soap and water is the absolute thing,” Simons said. “It is something that will actually prevent the virus from surviving on your hands.”

 

Adam Tumino can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]