Lexi Schnaser– Staff Writer
As Dordt University enters its spring semester, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect campus living. Last semester, the university sustained at least four students in some form of quarantine or isolation for each week. At its highest peak of cases, 135 students were placed in quarantine or isolation. Students will likely experience the quarantine process again this semester.
The contact tracing process that places students in quarantine is complicated. Each quarantine case involves several staff members from Dordt Dining, Student Health, and Student Services. Last semester many of the contact tracing responsibilities were delegated to Student Services and Residence Life directors: Derek Buteyn, Kim Byma, and Sam Roskamp.
“We went into the semester with a good plan and learned to adapt as we encountered issues,” Buteyn said.
Throughout the semester, they realized the number of students entering quarantine or isolation totaled a lot higher than they expected, meaning their responsibilities piled higher as well.
In order to relieve staff and streamline the process, Dordt created a new position over break: COVID-19 Support Coordinator. This position is shared between Bev Beimers and Dordt senior Brady Mackey.
The decision to create this position was fairly straightforward.
“It was basically looking at the fact that our energies in Student Services were being put entirely towards COVID and not on the typical Student Services things that we normally do,” Buteyn said. “Having full time staff to specifically focus on COVID and allows us to do what we do and allows them to fully focus on COVID.”
The COVID-19 Support Coordinator’s job is simply to track and care for the students who enter quarantine. When a student is informed they need to go into quarantine by Student Health, Beimers and Mackey reach out to that student and work alongside them so that they find a comfortable and reasonable quarantine plan. However, their job is not simple.
“At any time throughout the day we could get an email and that email could include a variety of students, each one with a unique story that requires a unique response,” Mackey said.
“Every situation that comes up is unique, and with COVID-19 we hear new things every day,” Beimers said.
Thankfully, COVID-19 cases at Dordt have started off slow, with three students in quarantine or isolation and zero active recorded COVID-19 cases as of January 25.
“It’s been slow so far, which is a good thing,” Mackey said.
The slow start to the semester has allowed Beimers and Mackey to analyze Dordt’s COVID-19 data from last semester. Sifting through the quarantine data from last semester has allowed Mackey and Beimers to identify the highs and lows in quarantine numbers throughout the semester. They have found the measures Dordt takes, such as capacity limits, masking, and social distancing, help to limit the spread of student-to-student exposure. They have also identified places where Dordt can do a better job of limiting future outbreaks.
“We have been able to see that the variety of precautions Student Services have taken, even if they haven’t been met with the most positive feedback, are working,” Mackey said.
Beimers and Mackey know it can be difficult for students to understand what it means for the campus to experience a spike in cases if their lives are not clearly affected by other students entering quarantine.
“Without being able to see the data, you don’t actually know what happens. The students are kind of like, ‘is there really?’” Mackey said.
Although COVID-19 cases have yet to pattern first semester numbers, it is likely only a matter of time before quarantine and isolation numbers start to rise on campus.
In the fall semester, the period from reporting COVID-19 symptoms or being contact traced to entering quarantine often took days. But now that the responsibilities are more consolidated, Beimers and Mackey hope the process will happen more quickly.
First, the student will be contacted by Student Health informing them they have been contact traced. Next, they will receive a call from either Mackey or Beimers who will explain quarantine procedures. After that, Mackey or Beimers will send the student an email with more information about things like meals, online classes, and quarantine transportation. Throughout the student’s time in quarantine or isolation, Mackey and Beimers will touch base to make sure they are getting their meals on time, the Wi-Fi is working for their online classes, and see how students are doing emotionally.
“It’s really a unique time to try to care for students, not just physically but emotionally or spiritually. We want to make sure their needs are all met when they’re put in this weird position of being alone for 10-14 days,” Beimers said.
Student Services did a lot of the trial-and-error groundwork for the contact tracing system last semester. Mackey and Beimers are thankful for a system that is already in place and how welcoming the Student Services and Student Health teams have been.
“Our goal is to find and maintain a healthy balance of community as well as keeping everyone safe and COVID free,” Mackey said.
If students or staff have questions about the contact tracing process, they are welcome to reach out to the COVID-19 support coordinators.
Beimers can be reached at email@example.com or 712-722-6042. Mackey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 712-722-6045.