OU’s contact tracing is currently limited to the Healthy Together App and the “individual responsibility” of students and staff to report their COVID-19 exposures or positive test results, according to a Sept. 22 email from a university spokesperson.
Last year, OU’s COVID-19 dashboard reported the number of students in isolation or quarantine without specifying individuals in university isolation housing, according to the email. It also partnered with the Oklahoma State Department of Health and Goddard Health Center, in coordination with the Cleveland County Health Department, for contact tracing.
In the absence of these specifications on the dashboard, students, faculty and staff must now use the Healthy Together App — a COVID-19 screening and reporting tool — to alert the university to a positive COVID-19 case, the spokesperson wrote. The app will note whether an individual is clear to come to campus based on the results of a provided questionnaire.
The university continues to keep track of reported cases on the dashboard, regardless of if they are reported through the Healthy Together App or email, the spokesperson wrote.
Dr. Dale Bratzler said although the OU Healthy Together App's system for tracking COVID-19 cases is new, the “honors system” required to accurately track cases is at the same level it was last year.
“Students weren't necessarily being tested at Goddard (last year),” Bratzler said. “They were going to urgent care centers, and then they would go home and get a test, they would go to Immy Labs, and there were plenty of places students could get a test done, and they've always been on the honor system to let us know if that test came back positive.”
In a Sept. 13 OU Faculty Senate meeting, OU Senior Vice President and Provost André-Denis Wright said the university is “dependent” on students using the Healthy Together App and “being honest” about potential COVID-19 infections to successfully implement the two-week mask mandate.
Wright also said during the meeting that administration is having a “hard time” convincing students to use the app. He said if a student chooses not to use the app, they can email their professor confirming a positive test result.
Bratzler said COVID-19 cases are often underreported due to asymptomatic cases or misidentified symptoms. The university’s dashboard includes weekly data from the State Department of Health to provide more holistic data alongside numbers collected from Goddard and the Healthy Together app.
“I think we've been keeping track very carefully. We don't want anybody to get sick,” Bratzler said. “We know some students have gotten infected, but the reality is the rates have been much lower this year. We never hit anywhere close to the isolation numbers this year than we did last year, and I think that's largely because we have so many students who are already vaccinated.”
The university's COVID-19 Dashboard reported 17 positive cases out of 309 COVID-19 tests from Sept. 16-22. Bratzler said the rate of positive COVID-19 tests is down to 2.7 percent, which is “incredibly low.”
“I always warn against complacency,” Bratzler said. “I don't want to say that we're cruising in any way, but case counts have come way down both on campus, in the City of Norman, in Cleveland County and in the state. Case counts are dropping everywhere, and that is very, very consistent with what other states have seen when they were hit with a big delta (variant) surge. They surge very rapidly over a two-month period, and then the case counts fall off.”
About 90 percent of Oklahoma’s variant cases can be attributed to the delta variant as of Sept. 19, according to The Oklahoma State Department of Health’s Sept. 12-18 weekly epidemiology report. The seven-day average for COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma is 1,887, according to the New York Times. The rate has decreased by 22 percent in the past 14 days.
Bratzler said he still encourages masking and vaccinations to keep case numbers down.
“My biggest encouragement is I encourage people to wear masks anytime they're indoors,” Bratzler said. “I encourage everybody to get vaccinated. We have just millions of (pieces) of data now that the vaccines are incredibly safe, and we know they're very, very effective.”