“Shield Our Spartans” is the new mantra of the UNC Greensboro campus community. And as the fall semester approaches, departments and offices from across campus have been diligently preparing for the arrival of Spartans to campus, and putting protocols into place to address the health of the community and promote the practice of “Wear. Wait. Wash.”
At the core of the health and well-being of campus is Student Health Services. The Anna M. Gove Student Health Center staff have been tracking COVID-19 since early in the spring, long before students were sent home and “coronavirus” became a household name in the U.S.
In this Q&A, Student Health Services medical director Dr. Traci McMillian provides insight into how she and her staff have been following the virus and how they plan to keep students healthy this fall.
How has Student Health Services been tracking the virus?
We started following the virus before it even got to the U.S. We were listening to briefings from the CDC and the WHO when the virus was in China. Back in the spring, even before the students were sent home, we started meeting with the Campus Emergency Preparedness Response Team. We have been working really hard to understand everything we can about the virus, even though the virus is only about seven months old, so things keep changing and new findings continue to come up. We take the safety of everyone – students, faculty, staff – very seriously, so we’ve been planning for a lot of different scenarios of how our clinic will run.
Lately, we’ve been monitoring and brainstorming how we can handle COVID-19 issues, especially as we enter the fall semester. In addition to participating in several University operations calls, I take part in a weekly call with counterparts from all other universities in Guilford County, and every other week I participate in a call with all of the directors of health centers in the UNC System to talk through different scenarios and discuss the latest data relating to COVID-19.
By now we all know the signs and symptoms of coronavirus. But because coronavirus symptoms are similar to those of other ailments, such as allergies and the flu, at what point should students or other members of the campus community contact a health care provider?
First of all, if you feel sick, stay home unless you are going out to see a health care provider or to get tested.
Deciding when to get tested or to see a health care provider depends on the individual. For example, if you have a runny nose but are also prone to allergies this time of the year, you could try taking allergy medication and see if your symptoms get better in a couple of days.
Also, think about what you have been doing and if you have recently put yourself at risk of infection at any point. Have you been social distancing? Have you worn a face covering when around others? Have you been washing your hands? If you have been doing all of those things and practicing good hygiene, that makes the likelihood of having been exposed to the virus lower. In that case, the symptoms you are experiencing may more likely be that of allergies or a cold.
If you haven’t necessarily been following social distancing measures or wearing a face covering as you should, and your symptoms are unusual or persist, talk to a health care provider or, if you’re a student, call the Student Health Center.
What services will the Student Health Center offer in the fall?
The Student Health Center is discouraging walk-ins and seeing students by appointment only. This is so we can screen individuals to ensure they get the appropriate care, and so we can prepare for their arrival. Student Health Services is providing students with telemedicine services to reduce the potential for exposure during in-person office visits. Testing is available for students through Student Health Services and for employees through their health care provider and community-based clinics. Students and employees are asked to use a self-reporting tool if they are ill and/or have been tested. These self-reports feed into a case tracking tool to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the contact tracing and case management process.
How is Student Health Services testing students?
We are only testing individuals who are experiencing symptoms consistent with coronavirus on a case-by-case basis. The symptoms of coronavirus are common to many different illnesses such as allergies and strep throat, so when a student calls or schedules a telehealth virtual appointment with Student Health Services and describes their symptoms, the provider will then decide how to proceed.
If the provider determines that an individual does need to be tested, an appointment will be made. Upon arrival, the individual can check in remotely on their phone. We will then call you in to the center for testing. We are using rapid testing, and the results are received while you are in the office.
If the test results are negative, we do a backup test to be sure. Both the rapid test and backup test are nose swabs. The backup test results can take several days to come back. During that time, you are expected to isolate yourself and go home.
If the test results are positive, you will be expected to isolate yourself and go home. If you cannot go home, UNCG will assist you in relocating to one of the designated quarantine and isolation facilities on campus.
How can students, faculty, and staff do their part in protecting themselves and others as we return to campus this fall?
Campus community members should adhere to all protocols, not just one or two. This means wearing your mask inside, practicing social distancing, not congregating in groups, practicing proper hand hygiene, and staying home when you are sick – this is not the time to power through classes if you feel ill because you’re putting yourself and potentially others at risk.
Keep in mind the idea of the campus community as a whole, and the culture of care needed to have a successful semester. You’re not just protecting yourself when you follow the protocols, you’re protecting others. Similarly, if you don’t follow the protocols, you not only put yourself at risk, you put other Spartans at risk who may be more vulnerable than you. Following the protocols the university has put in place and practicing “Wear. Wait. Wash.” is our best chance at a successful semester.
Interview by Alexandra McQueen, University Communications
Photography by Grant Evan Gilliard, University Communications