Loyola officials explain decision to halt contact tracing

Despite student concerns and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation, Loyola officials said the university has stopped contact tracing because it is “no longer effective” due to the Omicron variant.

A decision finalized during winter break, contact tracing at Loyola was halted Jan. 14, days before the start of the spring semester, The Phoenix reported. While faculty were notified of the decision via email on January 17, students were notified after classes resumed in Loyola’s January 19 health, safety and wellness update. .

Previously, the university only shared that contact tracing had been halted because it “is no longer pragmatic or effective at this time,” The Phoenix reported. Now the university is providing more information about what influenced its decision.

Wellness center director Joan Holden cited the “ubiquitous” nature of the Omicron variant as the motivation for the university’s decision. She said that initially contact tracing was useful to let people know if they were exposed, but since the virus has evolved and the Omicron variant has become so ‘ubiquitous’ contact tracing is not no longer as valuable as it once was.

“It was effective when the pandemic first hit; it was very helpful for people to know they had known exposure but frankly when you’re in a pandemic you get exposed very regularly and most people don’t even know that’s why the vaccine is the most effective way to prevent disease,” Holden said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends universities where not everyone is vaccinated continue to do contact tracing, according to its website. Some unvaccinated students, who have obtained a medical or religious exemption from the university’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement, are taking in-person classes at Loyola.

“We have an extremely high percentage of people vaccinated,” Holden said. “I mean 98-99% of our students, faculty and staff are vaccinated. So I don’t know the CDC recommendations for IHE, but frankly, we’re in an unusual situation because we have such a high number of vaccinated people in our community,” Holden said when asked to what extent the university’s decision was consistent with CDC guidelines. .

Halting contact tracing efforts as COVID-19 continues to spread across the city has contributed to some students, including Lindsey Perone, feeling unsafe attending classes in person.

Perone, 20, said last semester the contact tracing process whereby students were emailed if they were in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 gave them security while tracking their classes on campus. Without any on-campus contact tracing efforts, the sophomore said he felt unsafe in class.

“Every day before I go to class, I’m really stressed about getting COVID-19 because of the lack of contact tracing and because of Omicron,” said Perone, an environmental policy specialist. “I don’t think Loyola is doing everything it can to keep us safe.”

Since students were initially given limited information about the logic behind the suspension of contact tracing this semester, some students said they assumed money and convenience played a role in the decision to university.

“I think they’re just tired of having all this extra work for them,” Perone said. “I think they’re just doing it to save time and money on their end without worrying about the health and safety of students and staff.”

Holden denied that finances influenced the university’s decision to eliminate contact tracing from its COVID-19 containment strategy.

In an effort to reduce the risk of students exposed to COVID-19 infecting others in the community, Holden said anyone who tests positive should use Tell Your Contacts, a site that allows users who test is positive to send an anonymous email or text message. to alert nearby contacts.

Additionally, Holden said the university’s surveillance testing program — in which they are able to randomly select a sample of vaccinated people to get tested — helps identify COVID-19 infection among those who do. don’t know they’ve been exposed.

Holden said she would not make predictions about the circumstances that would require the university to reinstate contact tracing given that the pandemic is constantly evolving.

The three COVID care coordinators, who previously handled contact tracing, are continuing to care for students who are in isolation and advocating for everyone to be tested and boosted, according to Holden.

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