Polk State mitigates impact of COVID-19 on classes and operations

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

Polk State College has engaged in contact tracing and tracking self-reported cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the public health emergency.

As part of Polk State’s pandemic response, in July 2020 the College launched the COVID Response Team (CRT), a multi-disciplinary group comprised of representatives from across the College, including faculty from Nursing and Healthcare Administration, that is responsible for developing practices and processes to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on campus.

“As a member of the CRT, I appreciate being part of a team that takes a very thoughtful and measured approach to protecting the College community while maintaining instruction,” said Professor of Nursing and practicing nurse practitioner Dr. Lorrie Jones. “Each of us brings our knowledge and expertise to the table and we have healthy respect for how the discussions we engage in may result in policy recommendations for the administration.”

The team includes contact tracers who are charged with responding to all self-reported student, employee, and vendor cases of COVID-19, as well as any reports of contact with individuals who have confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infections.

“We realized early on that to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on campus and to promote the health and safety of the College community, we had a responsibility to track and trace these cases,” said Dr. Allen Bottorff, Vice President for Business Administration and Finance, Chief Business Officer, and Chief Risk Officer for Polk State College.

Since then, the College has responded to more than 850 reports submitted through the COVID Reporting Tool, placed or sent nearly 3,000 calls or emails to individuals, and spent more than 600 hours on contact tracing activities. Since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, Polk State has had 134 presumptive positive and confirmed positive COVID-19 cases on campus. A “case” for College reporting purposes is a member of the College community who has self-reported that they are presumptive positive or are confirmed positive for COVID-19, and who has been on campus during their exposure period.

The College’s Fall 2021 Semester began on August 16 with 46 percent of classes in face-to-face or hybrid formats. Since the start of the semester, 24 student COVID-19 cases have been confirmed on campus which has resulted in nearly 500 individuals being instructed to quarantine. Polk State is using guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and is consulting with the Florida Department of Health in Polk County regarding COVID-19 infections and exposures.

Polk State is notifying individuals of the need to quarantine via College email (my.polk.edu or polk.edu) and phone calls if there is a phone number on record. In some instances, individuals will receive a robocall and text rather than a live phone call. Students are encouraged to check Passport to ensure that their personal information is up to date.

Quarantine notifications include:

  • Information about the date of possible contact with the individual who was presumptive positive or was confirmed positive for COVID-19
  • The date that quarantine will end
  • The following instructions:
    • Unvaccinated individuals should quarantine at home and monitor for symptoms of COVID-19. If individuals experience COVID-19 symptoms, they should complete the College’s COVID Reporting Tool and contact their doctor.
    • Fully vaccinated individuals who are not exhibiting symptoms are COVID-19 are not required to quarantine and can return to campus. If individuals experience COVID-19 symptoms, they should complete the College’s COVID Reporting Tool and contact their doctor.
    • Fully vaccinated individuals who are exhibiting symptoms should quarantine at home and report through the College’s COVID Reporting Tool.
    • Individuals who have had COVID-19 illness within the past three months, recovered, and are not exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms can return to campus. If individuals experience COVID-19 symptoms, they should complete the College’s COVID Reporting Tool and contact their doctor.

Quarantined individuals do not receive a follow-up phone call or email unless they develop symptoms and complete the COVID Reporting Tool. They will then be contact traced and provided guidance as to their next steps.

Individuals who were presumptive positive or confirmed positive for COVID-19, receive a follow-up call at the end of their isolation period to confirm that their symptoms are improving per CDC guidelines. If they are, the individuals are advised to return to campus.

“The College is exercising an abundance of caution in response to the COVID-19 Delta variant,” said Bottorff. “We are also continuously improving upon our past approach in an effort to lessen the disruption for students and faculty while still maintaining safety.”

The College is encouraging faculty to use attendance logs and seating charts for face-to-face and on-campus hybrid classes which facilitate contact tracing. Through the learning management system, Canvas, the attendance logs combined with the seating charts allow contact tracers to pinpoint individuals who may have come into close contact with an individual who is presumed positive for COVID-19. This allows for a smaller number of individuals to be quarantined rather than the entire class.

Bottorff explained, “our goal is to limit the number of individuals who need to be quarantined while facilitating the continuity of instruction.”

The College has hired additional contract employees to complete contact tracing activities to expedite the process and continues to post data about cases on www.polk.edu/covid19.

Further, all individuals coming to campus are:

  • Strongly encouraged to get vaccinated;
  • Expected to check themselves for symptoms of COVID-19 and stay home if exhibiting symptoms or if sick;
  • Strongly encouraged to wear a mask while indoors on campus and to practice social distancing of at least 6 feet when possible; and
  • Encouraged to maintain hand hygiene with frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitizer.

More information about Polk State’s Return to Campus Plan and answers to frequently asked questions regarding the College’s COVID-19 response are available by visiting www.polk.edu/covid19, where individuals can also access the COVID-19 Reporting Tool.