Mikaela Wegner — staff writer
If you walk into the Science and Technology Center on the campus of Dordt University, you will likely find over a dozen students sitting with computers cracked open and notebooks lying beside them. Some sit individually, while others talk amongst themselves in groups. Most wear masks. With the new normal become a little more normal, Dordt University students and faculty are settling into their second spring semester defined by COVID-19.
According to the Morbidity and Morality Weekly Report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in a study done for trends on COVID-19 among individuals ages 0 to 24 in the United States, 57.4 percent of 2,871,828 positively-testing individuals ranged between ages 18 and 24.
In an updated report on January 18, 2021, the CDC predict there will be about 1,000 more COVID-19 related deaths in Iowa, between January 2, 2021 and February 15, 2021.
This spring, Dordt University is looking to counteract these realities and COVID-19 by introducing two new COVID-19 positions on the faculty team, providing new posters in all residence halls that identify symptoms and criteria for being contact-traced, and following policies from local and national health officials. The American College Health Association also provides COVID-19 weekly updates that influence the university’s set guidelines.
But, apart from these public health entities, Dordt University has no individual say in setting COVID-19 guidelines they adhere to, except in how they choose to conduct COVID-19 symptom tracking and where students quarantine or isolate.
Beth Baas, the Director of Student Health and Counselling at Dordt University, has been focused on how to make the number COVID-19 cases on campus numbers as low as possible. She wants to remind students that close contact is not just 15 minutes consecutively, but 15 minutes added together throughout the course of the day.
“Each time you’re spending time with [an] infected person you are getting a dose of the virus,” Baas said.
Starting in January, Dordt will implement the CDC’s option of a 10-day quarantine rather than 14. After day ten, the individual will be responsible to continue monitoring symptoms for four days, but is no longer required to stay in quarantine. This change comes after altered guidelines from the CDC that occurred between semesters.
Additionally, Student Health and Counseling will no longer do contact tracing over the weekend, moving all contact tracing to Monday through Friday. It will be delayed 24 hours and later conducted on Mondays. After an individual completes their symptom tracker and is required to quarantine or isolate, they will be directed to Bev Beimers and Brady Mackey, Dordt’s new COVID-19 Coordinators.
Presently, Baas says there is no plan to require vaccines. Still, Dordt will highly encourage and publicize getting the vaccine.
Even after the vaccine is administered, quarantine rules and close contact rules remain the same. Baas explains the vaccine protects one from getting sick from the virus but whether the vaccines prevent transmission of the virus has yet to be proven. Therefore, if an individual tests positive, all close contacts, regardless of vaccinations, will be required to quarantine as well.
This system of contact tracing has received pushback from some students at Dordt and is a difficult entity to manage, according to Baas. She says there have been positively-testing Dordt students that report no close-contacts, then later have friends of that person contact her office to report themselves.
“Contact tracing, at its best, it really requires that students have to be truthful,” Baas said.
Baas mentions Dordt is presently looking into having rapid testing done on campus. This way, when a student reports symptoms, they will be able to get tested that same day. Baas says that as testing increases, the more asymptomatic people who carry the virus can be identified, ultimately lowering the spread of positive numbers on Dordt’s campus.
Dordt University has recently gained access to rapid antigen tests and opened their testing schedule to five days a week Monday through Friday. Baas said that with quicker testing and results when a student reports symptoms, more people who carry the virus can be identified, ultimately lowering the spread of COVID-19 on Dordt’s campus.
Although politics have caused controversy about wearing or not wearing masks, Baas believes it is very unfortunate that wearing masks is a political issue at all.
“If you look at science, and you look at the effectiveness that masks have had, it does come down to do we love our neighbor, and how do we want to communicate that,” Baas said. “Or are we more concerned about self and feeling like somebody’s telling us what to do.”
She believes that society has worked through very similar conflicts such as smoking in public places or wearing a seatbelt.
“Those are all situations where somebody’s telling us what to do, because it protects the other guy. And this is the newest.”