Temple’s Contact Tracing Unit adds members, updates student questions

Temple’s Contact Tracing Unit asks students about symptoms, exposure and medical history.

Kara Reid, manager of the Contact Tracing Unit, works in her office in the Student and Employee Health Services building on Broad Street near Cecil B. Moore on Feb. 24. | ALLIE IPPOLITO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple University’s COVID-19 Contact Tracing Unit added five full-time contact tracers for the spring semester in addition to the four full-time contact tracers already in the program, said Kara Reid, manager of the Contact Tracing Unit.

The Contact Tracing Unit also recruited three graduate students as part-time contact tracers to help because of the increased number of tests per week, Reid said. 

“We’re on a better foot getting started this semester than last year when we had to jump in and do what we could,” Reid said. 

The Contact Tracing Unit contacts students who test positive for COVID-19 and other students who are deemed close contacts to tell them to quarantine and get tested, Reid said. 

Temple conducted more than 50,000 COVID-19 tests since the spring semester began on Jan. 17, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Temple averaged 70 new COVID-19 cases per week since the beginning of the semester on Jan. 17, according to the dashboard

The Contact Tracing Unit updated its student contact tracing questions, Reid said.

For interviews with positive cases, contact tracers confirm students’ test date and result, determine onset of symptoms and possible exposures, discuss medical history and establish any close contacts, Reid wrote in an email to The Temple News. 

For interviews with close contacts, contact tracers ask if students have symptoms and if they were vaccinated. The Contact Tracing Unit also schedules a COVID-19 test for them five to seven days after their exposure if they are asymptomatic or sooner if they are symptomatic, Reid wrote. 

When students test positive for COVID-19, a member of Student Health Services will call them within an hour. If they do not answer, students will receive a message in the Student Health Portal, Reid said. 

After several attempts to reach students, the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards contacts students as a last resort. Students have responded to 95 percent of the Contact Tracing Unit’s calls and emails, Reid said.

If students ignore the message from the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, Temple will deny them access to university buildings and, in some cases, suspend students. But it is rare for the university to have to discipline students, Reid wrote in an email to The Temple News. 

“The vast majority are cooperating,” said Mark Denys, director of Student Health Services. “There is a small minority that has not cooperated, and some of those have been referred to the Student Code of Conduct.” 

The Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards did not respond to a request for comment.

The Contact Tracing Unit calls between 50 and 100 COVID-19 positive students and their close contacts per week this semester. Each contact tracer handles about 15 cases per week and makes sure students are quarantining and getting tested, Reid said.

A close contact is an individual who spends 15 cumulative minutes within six feet of someone who tests positive for COVID-19, Denys said.

Students and faculty in in-person classes are not usually considered close contacts, but the Contact Tracing Unit will notify them if someone in their class tests positive for COVID-19 with a proximity notification, Reid said. 

“Say you’re in a classroom, even though you’re six feet apart, your risk is really low, but it’s not zero,” she added. 

The Contact Tracing Unit sent about 30 proximity notifications to classrooms this semester, as of March 1. Students and faculty who receive a proximity notification do not have to quarantine or get tested unless they show symptoms of COVID-19, Reid said. 

The Contact Tracing Unit doesn’t trace cases among faculty and staff. If faculty or staff members test positive, a small team in Employee Health Services handles their cases, Reid added. 

If students and faculty continue to practice the four pillars of public health and get vaccinated, Temple could open for a more normal semester in the fall, Reid said.

“There is a light at the end of the horizon,” she said. “You know, we’ve got the vaccine coming.”

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