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OU COVID officer says quarantine loophole ‘clarified,’ staff added to ‘overwhelmed’ campus resources

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Dale Bratzler (copy) (copy)

Dr. Dale Bratzler wears a mask during OU's Aug. 28 COVID-19 update.

OU’s chief COVID-19 officer told The OU Daily the university has clarified their initial practice of allowing quarantined students to dine and grocery shop on campus, and more personnel have been added to assist Goddard Health Center with coordinating quarantine efforts. 

Bratzler, reached Wednesday afternoon as other administrators spoke during a university town hall, said campus resources were “quickly overwhelmed,” particularly at Goddard, and struggled to perform all post-positive phone calls and check-ins. To bolster Goddard’s staff, Bratzler said he gave Goddard three employees from the Health Sciences Center to help perform student follow-ups in quarantine or isolation. Five total personnel, including two physicians and a physician’s assistant from the HSC, have now been added. 

The staff additions came after an OU Daily reporter published his experience in quarantine Sept. 11. 

“We ran out of that capacity really quick,” Bratzler told The Daily. “So, we had a backlog but I think we're getting it caught up… we expect to be fully caught up really soon. And there will be good follow-up with all the students, they'll know exactly what they're expected to do, when they can return to campus and those things.”

In an email, Dean of Students David Surratt stated that students who are instructed to quarantine are “no longer moved to isolation” and quarantine “generally in their permanent room assignment,” although no prolonged outings are permitted. Quarantined students, which are those who have been exposed to a case of COVID-19, do not receive meal service — as that is only for students isolating due to a positive test.

Students also receive an “isolation kit” which includes a thermometer, snacks, and water, with meals delivered twice daily and 10 days worth of snacks and breakfast items stocked in each isolation space, Surratt said. Other personal items may be mailed, including packages to their isolation space along with bed linens. 

“Residential life staff are available and checking in on community members and an on-call number is provided for students to contact staff 24 hours a day on weekdays and weekends,” Surratt said.  

Initial guidance from Goddard before Aug. 29 told students in quarantine they would pick up meals at the storm shelter. However, in an Aug. 28 email to quarantining students from OU food service administrator Stacy Lemmert, Lemmert explained OU's COVID response team had made changes to policies regarding meal pickup and when students were allowed to leave their quarantine space — allowing quarantined students to grocery shop and dine on-campus.

Blaine Teague, an OU Daily staffer, was quarantined in Traditions West and had to go to campus restaurants each day for food, as the policy was changed from the pickup method on his first day in quarantine. Teague also experienced insect infestations in quarantine, on one instance waking up to bugs crawling over him in bed. 

“As with any multi-unit housing complex, especially those that sit vacant for an extended period of time as was the case in the student's experience in The OU Daily, there are occasional pest issues,” Surratt said. “The university has a pest control service that sprays all its facilities on a regular basis and the service also spot treats any needed locations. However, additional walk-throughs have been done by facilities staff and housing staff to avoid issues like the one reported from occurring in the future. Students are always encouraged to contact Facilities Management to report any issues."

Bratzler said the change in food policy was actually guidance from the Cleveland County Health Department, but the OU administration has since “clarified” those instructions.

“A student that’s in quarantine can get in their car by themselves and get grab-and-go, they can get stuff delivered to the house. If they go to Wal-Mart they need to do online grocery (shopping),” Bratzler said, whom OU President Joseph Harroz appointed to oversee all of the university’s COVID response efforts in early June. “They can't go in and go shopping in stores and things like that; I think there was some misperception about how those instructions were written. But we clarified that with the Cleveland County Health Department, and they're not supposed to go out into public places.”

The university is following CDC guidelines and Oklahoma State Health Department contact tracing guidelines, Bratzler said, and OU is under contract with the OSDH to work in conjunction with the Cleveland County Health Department on contact tracing.

Bratzler said OU has a large executive policy group that meets to go over policies across all three campuses, and he has multiple phone calls with Norman every week, sometimes multiple calls daily.

“(We’re) going over policies, testing, isolation. We get updates on the number of available quarantine beds every day, so we know what our capacity is. We have reviewed the testing data, I keep track of all the state testing data, Cleveland County testing data, Goddard testing data — I keep track of all of it,” Bratzler said. “We share it constantly; we share it with President Harroz frequently. So no single person makes a decision, we do it by committee with a large group of us that come together.”

The OU dashboard tracking COVID-19 cases within the community was released Aug. 28, though it has less information and is updated less frequently than dashboards of several peer institutions — with data typically two days behind. Four positive tests were reported at Goddard and two within OU Housing as of today’s dashboard update of Monday’s data.

Bratzler said they are trying to automate some of the processes with quarantine and isolation, such as return emails, and with the addition of five people to the quarantine coordination efforts they’re “actually holding pretty well” with “plenty” of capacity in isolation.

Students are held in isolation for 10 days if they test positive for COVID-19, but students are quarantined for 14 days if they are exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19, in accordance with CDC guidelines, Bratzler said. 

“We recognize it's disruptive to go into isolation and quarantine. We don’t like telling people they have to do it,” Bratzler said. “So now we're starting to see that, as you know, each day some (quarantined) people come out (once cleared) and some (quarantined) people go in. Over the past few days, the number of positive tests had dropped quite a bit. So we haven't had as many new cases lately.”

news managing editor

Jordan Miller is a journalism and political science junior serving as The Daily's news managing editor. Previously she served as The Daily's spring 2019 news editor, fall 2018 assistant visual editor and was an SGA beat reporter.

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