Shown are LHU students who have helped out the last several months as COVID-19 contact tracers. Clockwise from top left, are Trinity Sumrall, Payton Bell, MCartney Register, Alex Massari, Kayla Mushala and Madison Dura.
Throughout the pandemic, Lock Haven University faculty and staff have worked hard to mitigate COVID-19 on campus in many ways. Earlier this year, the university assembled a COVID Institutional Response (IR) team consisting of 13 faculty and staff members. In August, LHU asked recently retired health science professor, Dr. Beth McMahon, to return and lead the team.
In her new role, McMahon works with LHU students, faculty, staff and the executive team to assist in prevention, early intervention and reduction of COVID-19 at LHU.
“This position requires prioritization, prompt action and attention to detail in documentation and data management as multiple investigations are conducted simultaneously,” McMahon said. “Our COVID Institutional Response team provides for an immediate university response to issues arising from COVID-19. It is critical that a cohesive team be able to shift gears rapidly or change course in the midst of unpredictable developments. Diverse talent and informed perspectives lead to a quick and effectively executed mitigation strategy.”
The team also has improved cooperation and communication between staff and faculty by providing collective messaging processes to inform the executive staff, faculty and students of developments in close to real time. They have provided frequent email communications with the campus community containing LHU’s COVID-19 test results, updates, issues and links to LHU policies, as well as details on quarantining and other important information. The COVID-19 dashboard on the university’s website was updated daily when cases were high and continues to be updated as results come in. The dashboard can be viewed at www.lockhaven.edu/Covid19Dashboard/.
LHU also has a team of contact tracers who work with a person who has tested positive for COVID to identify and provide support to anyone who may have been infected through close contact with the patient. The tracers also provide health education and guidance to interrupt ongoing disease transmission.
LHU’s contact tracers include students McCartney Register, Madi Dura, Payton Bell, Trinity Sumrall, Kayla Mushala and Alex Massari; Joanna Entz, assistant athletic training instructor; and staff Sherry Moore, assistant director of human resources; Teri Neeper, administrative assistant at the Clearfield campus; Mike Heck, assistant director of student and residence life. All tracers completed an 8-hour course from Johns Hopkins University.
Alex Massari, a second-year master’s student in the athletic training program, heard that McMahon needed students to help her with controlling the spread of COVID-19 on LHU’s campus and felt it was a perfect opportunity to contribute on campus.
Massari was most involved as a contact tracer during a large surge of cases on campus. “During this period of time, it was of the utmost importance for the LHU contact tracers to contact students as soon as they received a positive test result and give them directions from the CDC on how to complete isolation,” she said.
LHU provided students with the opportunity to isolate on campus if they did not feel comfortable going home and also set up meal delivery for on campus students.
“A challenge of COVID-19 is that many college aged students do not get symptoms, therefore it is hard to track when they may have contracted the virus and became contagious. A large part of my job was to help guide the patient through the past week or so and get every name and number of people they have been in close contact with,” Massari said.
The tracers call every close contact to the COVID positive person and explain that they had recently been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and to quarantine for 14 days. The tracers followed strict HIPAA and DOH guidelines and even contacted the positive cases daily to check in on how they were feeling. They tracked their symptom progress and told them when they could safely leave isolation.
“This pandemic has been a scary and unknown time for everyone in the world,” Massari said. “In order for the Lock Haven community to be able to resume some kind of normal, it was essential that we had dedicated contact tracers to catch cases early and reduce the spread on campus. We were also there to provide some comfort to people who were upset about contracting COVID-19 and possibly spreading it to family and friends, which I feel like is very important.”
McCartney Register, a junior dual major in health sciences and nursing, wanted to help as a contact tracer because she feels its important for students to have classes, labs and clinicals in person. “I wanted to be part of the solution that will allow us to be on campus,” she said. “I feel as though this has been one of my most important endeavors so far – promoting health and safety throughout my community and learning about a new virus. The majority of students have been so cooperative and sweet to work with. Their cooperation is the reason why this university was able to continue to have in person classes.”
During a surge of positive cases on campus in early September, bringing the positivity rate above the 5 percent threshold to continue face-to-face instruction, LHU decided to go fully remote for two weeks. Following that two-week time period, the campus conducted a reentry testing program for students, faculty and staff. After the results were returned with a lower infection rate, LHU resumed face-to-face instruction on Sept. 21. Because of the continued efforts of the IR team and contact tracers, the university was able to continue to keep the positive case rate low on campus and finish out the semester with in-person classes through Nov. 20 as originally planned. All classes will be conducted online through finals, ending on Dec. 11.
McMahon, along with a team of student contact tracers and members of the IR team are using LHU’s experience in COVID-19 mitigation to serve as an example for other institutions and organizations. They have been approved by LHU’s Institutional Research Board of Directors to conduct research and collect data to prepare grant applications. The team members are developing journal articles to share lessons learned about the process to add to the research in fighting the pandemic on a college campus.
“The objective of this research is to investigate and share the lessons learned in the implementation of investigation of 98 positive COVID-19 cases and tracing of over 600 close contacts at a Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education university,” McMahon said. “Our ultimate goal is sharing our experience in breaking the chain of infection of COVID-19 on a college campus, as well as enhance the safety, health and academic experience and overall health of the surrounding community. Our collective objective is to provide critical insight into adjusting and strengthening the approach to early identification and isolation of those who contract COVID-19 and quarantining close contacts of the COVID-19 case.”
Over the past few decades as a health science professor, McMahon said LHU has provided her with a remarkable opportunity to work with students, faculty and staff in many different ways. “I have dedicated my life to community and public health, community-based health improvement coalitions and have been honored to work with those committed to making our world a little better and a little kinder,” McMahon said. “The COVID-19 pandemic presents unprecedented challenges that call for a bold, aggressive and comprehensive response. LHU has a remarkable team positioned to respond to this challenge, I am honored to be a part of that.”
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Lock Haven University’s main campus is located on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River in the scenic mountains of Pennsylvania. The university offers 49 undergraduate majors and certifications with 47 minors and five graduate programs.
LHU is a member of Pennsylvania’s State System, the largest provider of higher education in the Commonwealth. Its 14 universities offer more than 2,300 degree and certificate programs in more than 530 academic areas of study. Nearly 520,000 system alumni live and work in Pennsylvania.
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