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Penn State Implements New System For More Efficient Contact Tracing

In an effort to maximize contact tracing on all campuses, Penn State is using a new platform called Salesforce Health Cloud, an international customer relationship (CRM) firm. This will make contact tracing faster and easier to manage and, overall, make the process much more efficient and productive.

The ultimate goal is to limit the impact of COVID-19 on both the Penn State community and the State College area.

“This platform is designed around the individual and their needs, so if a student or employee tests positive, we can quickly get the results, get the person into isolation, start contact tracing, and begin other processes,” said, David Gindhart, Penn State Information Technology’s associate chief information officer for university partnerships. “This enhances our response time, helping us to limit spread in the campus and local community.”

Another goal for this platform is to assist university staff and students. Director of Penn State’s COVID-19 Operations Control Center, Kelly Wolgast, is confident that the Salesforce platform “supports the health and well-being of our students and employees.”

This system is also said to have faster, more effective contact tracing and efficient case management. For example, Residence Life can be notified through prompts and messages when a student is being placed into on-campus isolation after testing positive.

They also state to have data from test results integrated into LionPATH and WorkDay. These will have built-in privacy protection for each student.

This platform creates organized reports and analyses of specific sectors in the university as well. For example, examining a certain residence hall or patterns among defined sections in downtown State College that could mitigate the virus’ spread.

Overall, the new system is a step in the right direction for Penn State.

Last semester, contact tracing was extremely delayed, allowing for more exposure across the campus and the State College community itself.

Many students, including freshman Meaghan O’Brien, have had a good experience with Penn State contact tracing. O’Brien was able to limit her exposure to other people before getting the call from contact tracing that told her she had to go into mandatory on-campus quarantine at Eastview Terrace.

On the other hand, I was one of the students who was informed solely through contact tracing.

The person who put my name down for contact tracing was placed into on-campus isolation early in the morning, around 9 a.m. on Monday, November 2, 2020. Contact tracers informed me of my exposure to COVID-19 later that night at 6 p.m.

This leaves a nine-hour window where I could have limited my contact with other people. This also means that since I did not know of the possible exposure, I spent nine hours of my day potentially exposing more people to the virus. That day, I had spent time around campus, like going to the HUB to get dinner with O’Brien.

I was placed into on-campus quarantine that same Monday night. I also gave O’Brien’s name to the contact tracers as somebody who I might have exposed. I had also told O’Brien of her possible exposure, so she was able to take necessary precautions.

I was not able to receive a COVID-19 test until the afternoon of Thursday, November 5. I tested positive and let O’Brien know. Within 30 minutes, O’Brien had received the call that she had exposure to somebody with a positive test result and that she had to head to on-campus quarantine.

Contact tracers did a really good job with contacting O’Brien in a timely manner once I had officially tested positive. However, I do think that there were still some major issues.

Even though it was not guaranteed that I had the virus at first, I was not able to get a test for three days after being placed into quarantine. I even expressed that I was having extreme flu-like symptoms on Tuesday, November 3, which was one day after being placed into on-campus quarantine.

With the implementation of the Salesforce Health Cloud, exposed students will be able to recieve COVID-19 tests much sooner. This would allow for shorter periods of time where another student is unknowingly exposing more and more people to the virus.

“The efficiency and the speed of being contact traced is important because the longer they want to inform a student that they’ve been exposed to the virus, the longer they will be walking around campus, exposing more people,” O’Brien said.

Contact tracing should also not wait until an exposed student has officially tested positive to inform the people that they have been around the days leading up to their quarantine.

If I never told O’Brien that I was in close contact with somebody who tested positive for the virus and that I was heading into quarantine, she could have spread the virus to more people. It took three days from November 2 to November 5 for her to be informed by Penn State that she had been in close contact with me.

Whether or not it was guaranteed that I had COVID-19 or not, they still should have simply informed O’Brien of possible exposure. This allows for that student to limit where they go and to prepare to possibly move into quarantine, like packing a bag and letting their family know.

“I think each student just needs to be cautious and if you’re going to contact trace someone, you should inform them immediately after,” O’Brien said. “This way, they hear it from you before the contact tracers.”

Penn State should also encourage students to let their peers know. But contact tracers should not rely on this.

In my case, the person who put my name down for contact tracing did not inform me, which allowed me to possibly spread the virus all around campus. Therefore, contact tracers should inform the students, even if it is not 100% guaranteed yet.

It was extremely upsetting knowing that I could have exposed other people, especially those who are at high risk. I needed to be informed of the possible exposure long before it was guaranteed.

However, it is understandable that contact tracing might not be able to do that for every single case, especially since they should prioritize students who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Again, I think that quicker testing will help minimize the time that a student knows that they were definitely exposed. Hopefully, this new platform can implement that as well.

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About the Author

Nicole Oronzio

Nicole is a sophmore majoring in journalism. She is from Aston, PA and loves hiking, watching movies, and trying new things. She has an obsession with her dog, Simba (aka. the love of her life). Just a fair warning: She will ramble on about literally any topic if given the chance. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @nicoleoronzio or email her at [email protected]

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