FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – A health care panel featuring Dr. Naveen Patil, the medical director for infectious disease at the Arkansas Department of Health, and campus leaders to discuss the COVID-19 situation on campus talked with the University of Arkansas community via Zoom on Friday, discussing health, safety, behavior and classroom concerns.
The forum was moderated by interim Provost Charles Robinson and included Dr. Huda Sharaf, medical director at Pat Walker Health Center; Melissa Harwood-Rom, dean of students; Terry Martin, senior vice provost for academic affairs; and Capt. Matt Mills, public safety officer in UAPD.
BEHAVIOR ON AND OFF CAMPUS
“We make sure students are aware of the expectations for them,” Harwood-Rom said. They need to wear masks, maintain 6 feet of distance from one another, avoid crowds and wash their hands.
“To some extent, our students have not adhered to those standards,” she said.
So far, infections don’t seem to be happening in the classroom or during the conduct of on-campus activities. Instead, they are happening off-campus at points when students do not follow the university guidance.
“Wear you mask,” Sharaf said. “It’s simple, but it works.”
On campus, about 400 reports of someone not wearing a mask have been received, Harwood-Rom said, but there have been no repeat offenders so far. To report an infraction, go to report.uark.edu and file a report under the “Code of Student Life” form.
Fayetteville has had a mask requirement since June, and Mills said that city officials will be taking stronger action against people who are not using masks in public settings, including Dickson Street.
Whenever a student is identified as not having followed the university guidelines, whether on or off campus, a conduct investigation will be pursued, Robinson said. “There will be very serious consequences.”
“People need to understand, if you want to stay on campus and be with your friends, you need to follow the precautions,” Patil said. “You need to play your part. Your actions will affect the people with whom you live, the people of the community, of Northwest Arkansas. … Take responsibility for your actions. … Parties are very exciting, but this is not the right time.”
TESTING AND TRACING
Drs. Patil and Sharaf explained the system of testing and contact tracing for members of the campus community who test positive for the COVID infection.
Whether someone is tested at the Pat Walker Health Center or at an off-campus site anywhere in the state and beyond, the results come back to Arkansas Department of Health and are then disemminated back to the campus, Patil said. The health department assigns a case investigator, usually a nurse, to call the infected person with questions about symptoms and when they appeared.
They also make a list of people with whom the infected person had contact in the days before testing positive, and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences begins contact tracing for any U of A-related cases. Tracing begins with known contacts, so they can be isolated, breaking the chain of transmission, he said.
Sharaf said that the Arkansas Department of Health had helped the university increase its testing during the last three days because of an increase in positive cases during the previous week. A drive-through clinic allowed tested about 1,500 students over a three-day period. Results, which take about 36 hours to return, are still coming in from Wednesday and Thursday.
“Our medical providers are taking shifts through the holiday weekend to check for results,” Sharaf said. “We hope to get the cases under control and slow it down.”
For students, faculty or staff who get tested off-campus and find out that they tested positive, they can speed up the contact tracing by self-reporting through the online form. Campus members tested at Pat Walker Health Center or through the athletics department don’t need to self-report.
Mills said that the various reporting mechanisms allow the emergency-response team on campus to determine how best to mitigate the spread of infections.
Any member of the university community, whether they are symptomatic or not, can schedule an appointment for testing by calling call 479-575-4451, option 1.
Patil addressed a question about contact tracing for students in a classroom in which a classmate has tested positive. Due to the reorganization of classrooms in the summer to spread desks at least 6 feet apart and the requirement for masks, the Department of Health is not requiring contact tracing for students in the classroom. “These are safe spaces,” he said. “In most cases, if someone’s masked up and six feet apart, we do not feel that this is a close contact.”
ISOLATION AND QUARANTINE
Although the two terms are frequently used for one another, isolation and quarantine have different meanings medically and different practical goals.
- Isolation: When someone has tested positive for COVID, they are asked to isolate for a period of about 10 days so that they don’t spread the infection.
- Quarantine: When someone is identified as having been in close contact with an infected person, they are asked to quarantine for 14 days, the incubation period for an infection to show symptoms.
The university has set aside rooms for students who need to isolate or quarantine. Students also have the option of returning home for the two-week period.
When a student on-campus tests positive, Mills said, University Housing is notified immediately. They reassign the student to another room and makes sure the student receives food and supplies. A well-being team also begins checking in with the student to keep tabs on them and provide additional support.
Harwood-Rom also spoke directly to students about the reality of the disease and a myth that young adults won’t feel the symptoms. “Some of our students are not feeling well,” she said “They are feeling all of the symptoms of COVID.” While most are able to follow classes remotely, some are not able due to the illness.
CLASSES AND STUDIES
When students find out that they are infected, many of them are notifying their professors first, said Martin. The university also needs them to fill out the self-report if they got tested off campus, he said. “Professors should make plans to allow the student to continue taking the class remotely.”
The university is recording every class so that students who aren’t able to watch in real-time can watch the recorded version.
When a student must isolate or quarantine, they should receive a letter from the Arkansas Department of Health when they are safe to resume activities. A medical provider such as the Pat Walker Health Center can also issue a letter if the ADH workload has become temporarily backed up. The student needs to present the letter to their professor to resume in-person classes.
For more information about the return to campus, visit the university’s Coronavirus Update site and the following topics:
About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among fewer than 3% of colleges and universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.