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Penn State Bolsters Contact Tracing Efforts Alongside Department Of Health

Penn State is teaming up with the Pennsylvania Department of Health to strengthen its contact tracing processes this fall, the university announced Tuesday.

Although plans to launch a contact tracing operation were first shared in a town hall earlier this summer, Penn State provided additional details in a public press release Tuesday afternoon. The system will be directed by Penn State’s COVID-19 Operations Control Center and operated by the Office of Student Affairs.

Contact tracing aims to identify, notify, and monitor students and employees who came in close contact to individuals who have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, or are presumed positive, while infectious.

“Contact tracing supports virus case detection and is designed to help prevent future outbreaks. By partnering with the Pennsylvania Department of Health and dramatically expanding our University operation, we are taking a unified approach that is consistent for all students, faculty and staff,” Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs, said. “With existing processes and mechanisms in place, the University is equipped to act swiftly to identify and contact individuals, as well as directly provide guidance and support to students and employees across our campuses who are impacted.”

The Department of Health will aid this process by conducting case investigations for all reported cases of the coronavirus at Penn State. The department will also work alongside Penn State to support the state’s requirements for case investigation, which includes reaching out to close contacts of those who may be affected by the coronavirus.

Penn State provided more specifics for the contact tracing process, including a brief outline of what a case investigation could entail.

Basically, the process will be a four-step plan that identifies individuals who’ve come into contact with those who’ve tested positive for the coronavirus.

  • Step One: Penn State will identify individuals who are diagnosed with COVID-19 or presumed positive.
  • Step Two: Nursing staff will initiate contact with positive or presumed positive students and employees.
  • Step Three: Contact tracers will communicate with employees and students identified as close contacts about quarantine expectations and support.
  • Step Four: Case managers will reach out to daily to students in isolation/quarantine to provide support and will notify faculty and instructors if a student is not permitted to attend class.

Close contacts are currently defined as anyone who as within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 10 minutes before the person began feeling sick until the time they were isolated.

The university also provided information on its plans to isolate students and employees who’ve been affected by the virus.

Individuals who have tested positive or are presumed positive must isolate for at least 10 days since symptom onset. They’ll need to see potential symptoms improve and be fever-free for 24 hours before returning to work or class. Those in isolation should stay home, separate themselves from others, and monitor their health.

Quarantine processes will look similar to isolation. However, individuals won’t be able to test out of the period and must quarantine for 14 days if they’ve tested positive or came into contact with someone who did. On-campus students will be provided space to quarantine, while off-campus students could if rooms are available.

Penn State will make academic adjustments and accommodations for those who miss class due to isolation or quarantine. Faculty have been instructed to check in with students and offer academic support.

The university encourages all students, faculty, and staff to do their part to help the contact tracing system work this fall.

“This is a community challenge and we each have a part in minimizing the spread of coronavirus in our communities,” Sims said. “Our partners across the University and the state will be vital in helping us address cases and presumed cases in a timely manner. It also will be critical for Penn State students and employees to participate fully and openly in the contact tracing process to support the health and well-being of our peers, colleagues and neighbors.”

Students who fail to comply with contact tracing efforts, as well as surveillance testing, could face disciplinary action from Penn State, potentially including suspension or expulsion.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt proudly served as Onward State’s managing editor for two years until graduating from Penn State with distinction in May 2022. Now, he’s off in the real world doing real things. Send him an email ([email protected]) or follow him on Twitter (@mattdisanto_) to stay in touch.

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