Grand Valley State University’s Virus Action Team (VAT) and COVID Awareness Team (CAT) have halted contact tracing in classrooms and at faculty and staff meetings.
Faculty and staff were notified of the change by email on January 24 at the start of the third week of classes in the winter semester. The message said that cases had decreased since the first week of classes and that the TVA expected fewer cases in the future.
“The Virus Action Team and the COVID Assessment Team (CAT) have ongoing discussions with Ottawa and Kent County Health Departments about best practices for notification of close contacts and quarantine,” the VAT said via email. “Based on these discussions and our experiences in 2021, the decision has been made to discontinue the search for contracts in classrooms.”
While this part of GVSU’s COVID-19 mitigation plan has been completed, other strategies will continue, according to the email. Professors will still be notified when students in their classes test positive for COVID-19 and will continue to require quarantine of unvaccinated household contacts and unmasked close contacts.
Greg Saniel, vice president of finance and administration and director of VAT, said that the CAT will now focus its efforts on household members and close contacts unmasked of those who test positive.
“CAT continues to contact close contacts of positive cases, focusing its efforts on those most at risk: household members and unmasked close contacts,” Sanial said. “Stopping contact tracing in the classroom allows CAT to notify those most at risk sooner.”
Sanial said contact tracing in the classroom led many students to self-isolate unnecessarily during the fall 21 semester — they never tested positive for the virus after masked classroom exposure. Ultimately, this disrupted student learning and did not provide any health or safety benefits to others in the same class
“During the fall semester, we quarantined unvaccinated students who may have been exposed in a classroom,” Sanial said. “None of these quarantined students tested positive and needed to be isolated.”
Students who test positive for the virus should report their results through GVSU’s daily self-assessment. Sanial said those who test positive are required to self-isolate and are not welcome in class while sick. Instructors will be notified when a student in their class tests positive.
Contact tracing in classrooms is no longer required by Ottawa and Kent County Health Services. Jonathan Arringdale, a Kent County Health Department (KCHD) public health nurse who meets regularly with the VAT, said contact tracing has become a challenge for area schools amid the spike in omicron cases.
“We recommend that they continue to contact the trace, even if there is an increase and of course you are going to have a lot of cases,” Arringdale said. “We always recommend that you do your best with the people you have.”
Cathy Armstrong, public health nurse at KCHD, said public health orders have changed now that vaccines and masking policies have reduced the threat of COVID-19 to public health.
“The public health order is a legal requirement that schools must comply with; it’s a last-ditch or worst-case scenario, and we can only do it legally if there’s a threat to public health,” Armstrong said. “With the introduction of vaccines and schools doing contact tracing, there is no reason for us to require it from a legal standpoint.”
GVSU students were notified of the change in a VAT email on Jan. 27. The message came after details of the email sent to faculty and staff circulated among students on social media.