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OU, other universities' COVID-19 screening tool enforcement based primarily on 'honor system'

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Administrators won’t enforce completion of OU’s COVID-19 self-screening tool and appropriate use of the tool is based solely on the honor code.

Kesha Keith, OU director of media relations, said OU “urges” anyone who plans to be on campus “to take personal responsibility” in following the university’s COVID-19 protocols, including the screening tool, which determines whether or not an OU student, staff or faculty member can be on campus based on possible or confirmed exposure to the virus.

“The screening tool is voluntary for those who are not directed to fill it out as a condition for campus access, clearance or some other action requested by the university,” Keith said.

While Keith said the university “can keep individuals from returning to campus who are infected, or may be infected” until they have been cleared by Goddard Health Services through the screening tool, enforcement relies on an employer or professor to report to the university if a student or employee has returned to campus and not been cleared.

“When the university is notified of noncompliance through the reporting process, each situation is addressed, and an outcome is given individually,” Keith said.

But Minnesota State University in Mankato, which has a comparable COVID-19 screening tool, requires its students, faculty and staff to fill out the tool every day in order to be allowed on campus, according to its website, and people can be faced with disciplinary action for lying about passing the screening or refusing to do so. All seven universities and 30 colleges in the Minnesota State system are using the screening, said Dan Benson, director of media relations at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

According to the website, employees who do not complete the tool daily “will not be admitted to the workplace, will be considered absent from work without approved leave during their regular assigned work time and may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including discharge.” Any student who refuses will not be allowed to enter campus buildings, and if they enter anyway, they “may be subject to student code of conduct and may be removed from campus.”

Similarly to OU, Minnesota State University, Mankato, is offering classes in person, online or in a hybrid format. Benson said 30.4 percent of classes offered for fall 2020 are online, 33.9 percent are in-person and 35.7 percent are in a hybrid format. 

At OU, all class sections with 40 or fewer students can be held in person, which is 86 percent of all course sections. Those with enrollments over 40 moved online, which is 14 percent of all sections, according to OU’s Safe and Resilient Plan.

OU’s screening tool must be filled out before returning to campus only if a student, faculty or staff member falls under any of six categories, which include absence from campus, traveling, close contact with a positive COVID-19 case, experiencing symptoms, testing positive for the virus or living with someone who has tested positive, according to OU’s Phase III COVID-19 return plan

However, there used to be a seventh category, which required individuals who attended an event or group gathering with more than 10 people without social distancing or wearing a mask to fill out the screening, according to OU’s original screening tool guidelines. As of Aug. 25, 5,131 OU community members had filled out the screening tool form over the last 30 days, Keith said.

Absences that require filling out the screening are: Being away from campus for “any reason” and for seven or more consecutive calendar days. Traveling consists of leaving Oklahoma, according to the return plan. 

However, if a student or employee who travels qualifies for the “commuter process,” they can be exempt from filling out the screening unless they meet any of the other screening criteria. Those who qualify are students or employees who are required to travel on a daily or regular basis back and forth across Oklahoma state lines in a car alone or with household members, but they must be approved by their supervisor or dean, who must then report any approved exemptions to Goddard Health Center, according to the return plan.

“For example: A student who lives 10 miles over the Oklahoma border and travels daily in his/her personal vehicle may not have to complete the Tool with each commute,”  the return plan read.

A person who has had close contact — which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines as being within 6 feet of an infected person for at least a 15-minute period up to 48 hours before symptom onset or a positive test result in the past 14 days must fill out the screening tool, along with anyone who lives with someone who has tested positive or starts experiencing their own symptoms, according to the return plan. 

Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 has to fill out the tool and “may not return to campus until they have been cleared” by Goddard Health Center or Student and Employee Health, according to the return plan. Scheduled vendors and visitors who will be on campus more than 15 minutes are also required to fill out a separate screening tool before coming on campus. 

The screening tool asks OU students and employees for their basic information, including their phone number, email address, college, campus, expected date of return to campus and the most recent date they were on campus.

The rest of the screening tool asks questions that determine possible exposure, such as if the individual has traveled or lived outside of Oklahoma, has attended a gathering of more than 10 people, experienced symptoms, had direct contact with a confirmed case, had direct contact with someone waiting for test results, lives with someone who has had COVID-19 symptoms and/or lives with someone who has been told to self-isolate — all within the past 14 days.

However, two of the questions on the screening tool — whether an individual has attended a gathering of more than 10 people or if they live with someone who has been told to self-isolate — are not under the six categories required for filling out the screening.

“The screening tool uses a holistic approach in which this information is paired with additional screening questions to allow for a more comprehensive review,” Keith said in response to why the questions are on the screening but not requirement for filling it out.

The screening also asks if the individual has lived with anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last 30 days, or has tested positive themself in the past 20 days.

OU students, faculty and staff will be notified of their screening results via email. For employees, the email “must be forwarded” to their “direct supervisor,” according to the return plan.

Minnesota State’s screening tool, in comparison, must be completed by anyone coming onto campus for over 15 minutes — regardless of whether or not they have been at risk of exposure to COVID-19, according to the university’s website. 

Those who pass the screening, according to Minnesota State's website, will get an email of approval to go on campus, and “anyone may be asked to show” the email when arriving on campus or work. Those who do not pass will get an email that they should not return to campus or work. 

If an employee or student comes to work or campus after failing the screening, they “will be addressed through the appropriate discipline process,” according to the website.

However, Benson said professors and employers have not been assigned to check whether a student or employee has completed the screening when they arrive on campus, and professors and employers do not have access to the screening data system to ensure a student or employee has filled it out because the data is considered “confidential” and “highly restricted.”

“We expect students, faculty, staff and visitors to complete the tool as requested,” Benson said. 

Enterprise editor

Bailey Lewis is a journalism senior and The Daily's enterprise editor. Previously, she served as a news editor, a senior news reporter and news reporter.

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