How the Boise State Public Health Office handled contact tracing throughout the pandemic – The Arbiter


The Boise State Public Health Unit is responsible for managing the university’s COVID-19 contact tracing, a service that is constantly evolving to meet the needs of students.

The Office of Public Health’s contact tracing efforts began in the summer of 2020 in anticipation of the new academic year.

At the time, the town of Boise had already implemented contact tracing efforts through its local health department. However, the department was quickly overwhelmed with an overwhelming amount of work.

In response to the growing need for accessible contact tracing advice for students, Public Health has launched its own contact tracing team for the university.

According to Maureen Welcker, senior public health official for Boise State Public Health, the university has recognized the need to expand contact tracing beyond the local level as early as summer 2020.

[Photo of students walking through the Boise State Student Union Building (SUB)]
Photo of Claire Keener | The referee

“Our campus community was wondering what to do when they tested positive or what to do if they thought they had been exposed to COVID-19… We noticed that it was necessary to be able to provide this resource for our campus community, ”Welcker said.

The university’s contact tracing team is working with Central District Health to closely follow CDC guidelines, which define who and when someone should be contacted once a positive COVID test has been reported.

When a Boise State student reports a positive COVID test, the Office of Public Health contacts the student and guides them through specific research procedures.

Haidyn Jones, a second-year dual major in media arts and business, received a public health call after testing positive for COVID at the start of the fall semester 2021.

“The way they informed me is that they just called me and they told me that I had tested positive, and they immediately asked all the people that I had been in contact with during the course. from last week, ”Jones said.

The goal of contact tracing is to identify people the student has been close to during their infectious period, which is considered to begin two days before the onset of symptoms or a positive COVID test.

However, determining who exactly is considered “at risk” to the virus can be a complicated process.

To be contacted by public health, a student must have been near a COVID-positive student during their infectious period and also have been less than 6 feet away for more than 15 minutes.

“That’s kind of the reason we exist, because it’s really hard to figure out a lot of these dates and times and so on,” Welcker said.

Fortunately, easier ways of determining who to contact have been put in place by the university since the summer of 2020.

To further facilitate the contact tracing process, Public Health has devised a way to track student seating positions. This approach was aimed at reducing the number of people needing to self-isolate and to help the contact tracing team determine who may have been exposed to COVID.

“Our students, and even our employees, don’t always know the person they’re sitting next to,” Welcker said. “They don’t necessarily know that person’s last name, how to spell their name, or any of the details we might need to be able to contact these people.”

Their first attempt at tracking seats in the classroom required students to record their seat number daily for each class, which Welcker said was not very effective.

“We stopped doing it because we found it to be quite a burden on the students, in the sense that we found the students forgetting to do it every time,” Welcker said.

The solution was to set up mandatory seating in classrooms so that once the seats were registered at the start of the semester, the contact tracing team had an accurate estimate of who each student interacted with on a regular basis.

In addition to determining who to contact, there are also guidelines in place for who exactly is asked to quarantine or get tested for COVID.

“They emailed my roommates, and those who were vaccinated didn’t have to take a COVID test, but those who weren’t vaccinated had to get tested,” Jones said .

Contact tracing guidelines state that students who are fully vaccinated are not required to test or quarantine even if they are exposed to COVID.

“I didn’t think people who were vaccinated wouldn’t have to be tested. I thought they would have everyone tested. So that’s something that surprised me, ”Jones said.

According to Jones, part of Public Health’s efforts to contact her included monitoring her via email twice a day while she was in isolation accommodation. They also sent out a daily health survey on temperature, symptoms, and other concerns.

“They were calling and emailing very frequently,” Jones said. “I really felt supported. “

As the number of COVIDs decline in the Boise State community, Welcker stressed the importance of continuing contact tracing efforts to maximize student health and safety.

Planning for next year’s contact tracing efforts requires public health to closely monitor COVID numbers in Boise state and also Ada County as a whole.

“We’re constantly looking at the numbers, constantly assessing where things are at because you know, we want COVID to go away like everyone else,” Welcker said. “We are moving in a very good direction, and we will adjust our protocols as soon as we feel we are in a place where we can do it.”


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