Letter from President Pollard - July 27

Quarantine, Isolation & Testing

Dear Students & Parents,

We are three weeks away from the start of class, and I know there are probably still many questions about what campus life will look like and what procedures and policies we will have in place. You received a letter about the COVID-19 student covenant last Tuesday, and we will continue to send updates via email and videos on our website and social media platforms. We have also published a new, extensive FAQ on our Back to Campus website that we believe will answer many of your questions.

As I’m sure you are aware, the pandemic continues to change with a rise in cases in many states, Arkansas being one of them. To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Governor Hutchinson issued a statewide mask order that was implemented Monday, July 20. JBU will also be requiring masks and physical distancing (six feet) inside all buildings and requiring masks outside if you can’t maintain physical distancing. There are a few locations where students do not need to wear masks: outside when they are maintaining physical distancing, in dining facilities while they are eating, and in their rooms.

We are following the directives of the Governor and the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) because they offer the best strategy to slow the spread of COVID-19, which we see as an important part of our Christian and educational mission to love your neighbor (preventing the illness of others, particularly those who are vulnerable), to love yourself (mitigating the number of students in isolation and quarantine) and love JBU (reducing the possibility of having so many people infected that we would have to return to remote education).

We are still moving forward with our plans for face-to-face instruction but, as promised, want to remain transparent by providing you with as much information as possible. In particular, I want to explain a bit more about the testing, contact tracing, isolation and quarantine process because it could be the most disruptive part of our fall semester. While predicting the spread of COVID-19 is difficult, it is reasonable to expect that some students, faculty and staff will have to be isolated or quarantined during the fall semester. The ADH has had extensive conversations with the leadership teams of Arkansas’ universities and given details on these protocols, but they are subject to change.

When will a student be tested? Given the limited availability of testing kits and the increasing cases in Arkansas, right now only symptomatic students and students determined to be exposed to an infected person will be given a COVID-19 test. Most test results are taking 5-7 days or longer to be reported. The ADH recommends that symptomatic or exposed students be placed in quarantine until they find out the results of their test. Arkansas has allocated money to help universities acquire testing, and JBU has been in conversation with several providers and state officials to see if we might be able to obtain a timelier testing process for JBU students. We will update you if and when we receive more information about testing.

What if a student tests positive? If a student tests positive for COVID-19, the testing laboratory must send their name and contact information to the ADH. An ADH caseworker will then contact that student and explain the process of isolation. They also expect to call JBU to inform them of the positive result on campus. Next, a contact tracer will call the positive student to determine who they have been in “close contact” with during their infectious period (which includes 48 hours prior to the first symptom or the positive test). Though the ADH looks at a totality of facts and circumstances, they generally define “close contact” as anyone who has been closer than six feet to the infected/positive person, without a mask, for more than 15 minutes. This definition reinforces the importance of maintaining physical distancing and wearing masks as much as possible; these practices will minimize the number of students infected or placed in quarantine. The contact tracer will then communicate with all of the people in “close contact” with the infected/positive person and require them to quarantine. This communication process is supposed to be completed within 48 hours of the test result reporting, but it is taking longer right now due to staffing shortages (five to seven days or longer). We have been informed that the University of Arkansas Medical School will be handling the contact tracing for higher education, and we are hopeful that they will be more efficient. Given the current response time, JBU will also try to facilitate contact tracing, isolation and quarantining to minimize the spread of infection as we wait for the ADH process.

What will “isolation” look like for JBU students? The ADH will require each infected/positive student to be isolated from the general public, usually for at least 10 days, and they will only be released when they can show no fever for three days straight without medication. JBU expects that most infected/positive students will go home for isolation, if feasible, and others will be placed in isolation housing provided by JBU. The ADH allows infected/positive students to be housed with other infected/positive students. JBU will provide food service to the students in isolation if they remain at JBU, and those students will be able to keep up with classes through the OWL camera technology in our classrooms. The ADH and JBU will monitor the symptoms of all infected/positive students to make sure that they are getting proper health care. JBU residential life staff will also continue to minister to students’ emotional and spiritual needs.

What if a student is determined to have been in “close contact” with an infected/positive person? The contact tracer will call all “close contacts” of an infected/positive person, and those exposed students will be required to go into quarantine for 14 days. If possible, the ADH recommends that an exposed student in quarantine should be housed alone in a single room with access to their own bathroom. There may be some flexibility for higher education, given its congregate living context. Again, JBU expects that most quarantined students will go home, if feasible, during their quarantine. The rest will be placed in housing provided by JBU. The ADH suggests that the quarantined student be tested three to five days after exposure to see if they have contracted COVID-19 because it takes several days after exposure for the virus to show up on the test. If the student tests positive, we expect that most students will go home for isolation, if feasible, or they will be transferred to the isolation housing at JBU and follow that protocol. If the student tests negative, they will have to remain in quarantine for the full 14 days because the disease can develop at any time during those 14 days. To repeat, a negative test does not release a student from quarantine. This fact is another major reason for requiring masks and physical distancing to minimize the number of students determined to be “close contacts” and quarantined. JBU will provide food service to students in quarantine if they remain at JBU, and those students will be able to keep up with their studies through the OWL camera technology in the classrooms. The ADH and JBU will monitor the symptoms of all students to make sure that they are getting proper health care. JBU residential life staff will also continue to minister to their emotional and spiritual needs. 

Who makes the decision about isolation and quarantine? The ADH makes the ultimate determination about who should be isolated or quarantined. JBU will assist the ADH in providing information to make the contact tracing process as efficient as possible and facilitate infection control on campus, but we do not control the decision. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, JBU may also need to place students preliminarily in quarantine or isolation if testing results or the ADH’s contact tracing remains delayed.

What if a student does not comply with the order to isolate or quarantine? The ADH’s order to isolate or quarantine is enforceable as a matter of law. JBU is also asking students who come this fall to be willing to comply with the ADH’s and JBU’s requirements.

Where is the best place for a student to be in isolation or quarantine? We believe that it would be best for a student to isolate or quarantine at home, if feasible. It would mitigate the risk of further spread of the infection on campus and would likely be more comfortable for the student. With adequate Wi-Fi capacity at home, the student would have full access to coursework through our OWL camera technology and could return to campus after their time of isolation or quarantine. This practice would also enable JBU to maximize its use of quarantine and isolation beds on campus for students who cannot return home, thus increasing our opportunity to remain in face-to-face education throughout the semester. JBU has reserved about 100 beds for the isolation and quarantine of students (a little over 10% of our capacity), but they could be used up quickly depending on the needs of students and the ADH’s flexibility with congregate housing on university campuses.

What is JBU doing to minimize the possibility of an outbreak of the coronavirus? There are four essential mitigation strategies: 1) physical distancing, 2) face masks, 3) hand-washing and 4) self-monitoring for symptoms. JBU is requiring all four strategies from students, faculty and staff. We have alcohol-based hand sanitizers all around campus; we are asking everyone to wear masks at all times in buildings (except when students are in their rooms or are eating) and outside when they can’t be physically distanced; we are setting up almost all of our instructional spaces and all of our dining spaces to provide for physical distancing; and we have purchased large tents for extra dining and social areas (the ADH suggests that being outdoors greatly mitigates the transmission of COVID-19). We are doing everything that we can to make the fall semester a healthy and good educational experience for all students, but we will need your compliance with the guidelines both on and off-campus to be successful.

What can a student do before coming to campus to minimize the spread of infection? JBU is encouraging students, if feasible, to follow best practices and self-quarantine with their immediate family for at least 14 days prior to arrival to help reduce the risk of bringing the virus to campus.

 

We still believe that a return to face-to-face instruction is the best way to educate our students, help them grow in their faith and fulfill our mission of preparing young people to honor God and serve others by developing their intellectual, spiritual and professional lives. We know that these new protocols will be challenging for all of us, but we also believe that they are worth doing if they enable us to return and stay on campus throughout the semester.

We invite you to visit our Back to Campus website, which we have just updated.  I will also be hosting forums on social media during the week of July 27 to answer students’ questions, so please look for announcements on those forums. The website also has a form to ask questions that are not answered in this letter or in the FAQ. We will also continue to disseminate information via email and the JBU Parent FB Community

We continue to pray for our students and their families, and we look forward to being together this fall. We ask that you join us in prayer for God’s wisdom, protection and unity in responding to these challenging times.

Blessings,

Chip Pollard

President, John Brown University