Our focus has been and will aggressively continue to be to minimize and manage risks through integrated, well-researched community-wide protocols and plans. All current evidence suggests, and the guidance we've received from medical and public health experts is, that the best way we, and any institution, can contain the virus is through diligently following health and safety guidelines like mask wearing, social distancing, and effective cleaning and disinfection protocols. Combined with testing of symptomatic individuals and the close contacts of those who are positive, these efforts stand to significantly contain the spread of the virus.
We have established our testing protocol based on consultation with doctors and public health experts from some of the country’s largest and most well-regarded university hospital systems and based on guidance from the CDC. Our protocol will involve diagnostic testing with quick turnaround times (in response to individuals with COVID-consistent symptoms); the testing of close contacts who emerge through the contact-tracing process; and a form of surveillance testing known as signal testing, where we will test a percentage of the campus population every week.
Denison is partnering with The Ohio State University for ample on-campus testing of students. Ohio State’s COVID-19 test, developed with Battelle Memorial Institute and recognized as one of the best in the nation, uses the RT-PCR method. Swabs will be taken on campus through our Wellness Center, and the test processing will take place locally, at Ohio State labs, with fast turnaround times. Denison’s Wellness Center also has two Abbott Laboratories rapid test machines, which, starting in September, will allow tests for symptomatic students to be processed on-site within 15 minutes.
COVID-19 testing is covered by Denison's medical insurance and faculty and staff have access to rapid testing facilities across Central Ohio. However, we are also hoping to have the ability to include faculty and staff in on-campus testing if they emerge as close contacts through the contact tracing process outlined below. We are working on final confirmation of this plan and will share more with faculty and staff soon.
Also, in consultation with medical and public health experts, we are establishing a system for surveillance testing (for asymptomatic individuals) during the semester. This approach will help us detect potential outbreaks of COVID-19 on campus. Each week a percentage of students will be tested to help provide an understanding of whether there are asymptomatic carriers on campus. The information provided by surveillance testing will be used to adjust operations on campus to continue to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. We also expecting to extend signal testing to faculty and staff and will share final confirmation of those plans soon.
Recently the CDC provided guidance on mass-scale re-entry testing (testing of all students when they arrive on campus) and "does not recommend" it which is very consistent with the advice we have received from medical and public health experts with whom we have been consulting. An important limitation of mass testing, as outlined by the CDC, is that it could miss cases in the early stages of infection or subsequent exposures resulting in transmission, and would only provide COVID-19 status for individuals at that specific point in time. The incubation period is thought to be within 14 days following exposure so a negative test does not rule-out the possibility of infection. Meaning someone may be negative on day four, but turn positive on day 14.
Once a student has tested positive for COVID-19, the Wellness Center staff will discuss housing options with students for isolation, including determining if they can isolate in their assigned housing location (depending on their room configuration) or if they will need to temporarily move to a different location provided by the university. Students, in consultation with their families, could choose to return home for isolation, if traveling can be done safely. The Wellness Center will work with Student Housing to determine the appropriate location for the student to isolate.
The Wellness Center will supply each student who is in isolation on campus with a kit that will include over-the-counter medications to help with fever control, cough, and sore throat pain and a resource folder with medical and wellness guidance and contact information.
The Wellness Center will conduct periodic symptom checks and conduct telemedicine visits for students needing medical care.
Students will be required to maintain isolation until they are absent of fever for three days without the use of fever-reducing medications, respiratory symptoms have improved and at least ten days have passed since the onset of symptoms. Students will be able to continue their classes remotely in most cases.
If a student has tested positive for COVID-19, a contact-tracing process will commence to identify those with whom the student may have come in close contact. The county health department will oversee the contact-tracing process. Those people who are determined to be in close contact with a known case of COVID-19 will be required to quarantine for 14 days.
The University will follow guidelines provided by the Licking County Health Department and the CDC to determine who is a close contact and who should be tested for COVID-19. Consistent with CDC and public health guidelines, students who are close contacts will be required to quarantine, even if they test negative for COVID-19. Because the incubation period is thought to be within 14 days following exposure, a negative test does not rule-out the possibility of infection. Meaning someone may be negative on day four, but turn positive on day 14.
Therefore, the best course of action is to remain in quarantine. If a close contact tests positive for COVID-19, a contact-tracing process will commence to identify that student’s contacts. This is part of an aggressive containment strategy.
Members of the community identified through the contact-tracing process as having been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19 will be required to quarantine. Denison staff will help determine quarantine space options, which may include quarantining in one’s assigned residence hall room (depending on the room configuration), being temporarily housed in dedicated quarantine spaces on campus, or returning home if that’s the preferred option for students and their families.
In alignment with CDC guidelines, students who are in quarantine will remain so for 14 days from the date of exposure and must remain symptom-free during the 14 days. Staff will regularly check in on the student. Because Denison courses have been designed for both in-person and remote delivery, students in quarantine will be able to continue their classes remotely in most cases. Dining Services will arrange for food delivery. If a close contact tests positive they will then be moved to isolation.
In addition, our Counseling Services staff are designing support resources specific to the needs of students in quarantine and isolation.
Making an Informed Family Decision
Based on all data and science as we know it today and based on the guidance we have received from medical professions, we feel our plans outlined here will help us mitigate and manage COVID-19 infections on our campus. However, as in all aspects of life everywhere across the country, the risk of COVID-19 will remain in our midst.
We know each student and their family must determine their own comfort level and make their own decision about whether or not to be on campus for in-person instruction this fall. We know some students will choose not to, or may not be able to, be on campus so our hybrid approach offers every student the opportunity to participate remotely.
Regardless of the mode of delivery -- in person or remote -- we feel confident Denison students will have an exceptional experience. Our faculty are working all summer to design courses that are engaging regardless of delivery method. Their commitment gives us confidence that no matter what the semester holds, we’ll deliver on our mission of providing a world-class liberal arts education.