MISHAWAKA – Like most educational institutions across the nation, Bethel University is trying to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. So far, Bethel’s measures to combat the spread are working.
“When something happens, in this case the pandemic, an Incident Management Team is formed,” Paul Neel, director of campus safety, said in an email. “In this case the president directed that Dr. Holtgren lead the response. The make-up and size of the team can vary depending on the situation being addressed and the needs presented.”
The short-term success is due in no small part to the efforts of the Emergency Preparedness Team (EPT), which was formed several months ago in the wake of the pandemic. The team is led by Shawn Holtgren, vice president for student development, and features various leaders on campus.
The EPT examines and discusses the big picture response from the institution during the pandemic. Dean of Students Julie Beam, who is on the EPT, said the team still meets regularly.
As the pandemic progressed and a new academic year approached, a second sub-group was formed out of the EPT to handle the day-to-day response to COVID-19. The second group is called the COVID Response Team (CRT) and is primarily lead by Beam. The members who occupy the CRT include Holtgren, Beam, Head Athletic Trainer Sarah Hauck, Campus Nurse Dora Madsen and CRT Assistant Polly White.
“It’s the five of us who are working functionally to manage cases,” Beam said. “The resident directors and John Kaehr with commuters are also supporting that group. They may walk-out some of the practical details of letting a student know that they might need to quarantine or that they’ve been exposed to someone.”
Madsen, Beam and Hauck try to interpret the guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH). Hauck is in regular communication with the NAIA, the Crossroads League and other organizations Bethel athletic teams are affiliated with to determine their guidelines. Madsen is communicating with the St. Joseph County departments of health to determine their guidelines.
One of the earliest issues the EPT and CRT faced was deciphering and executing the right protocols based on the numerous guidelines given.
“The thing I’m finding…is no matter how clear we think a statement is, there’s still five different ways people can understand it,” Beam said.
Both teams utilize a complex flow chart called the Emergency Management Plan to determine the best course of action in a situation where someone is exposed to COVID-19. But within each perceived step of action is a caveat.
For example, in August, Bethel instructed students, staff and faculty to quarantine if they had been exposed to anyone with symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19. A couple weeks later, the ISDH updated its guidelines for colleges and universities. Upon examining the updates, the CRT realized Bethel did not have to quarantine someone based solely on whether or not the person they were exposed to had symptoms.
In other words, someone with the common cold or a fever does not necessarily have COVID-19. But if the person with these symptoms was indeed exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19, then the exposed person would need to quarantine.
“A lot of this as it’s shifting is based on what the availability of testing and how accurate we believe the testing is,” Beam said. “So, I mean, there’s some issues with that there are both false-negatives and false-positives.”
A false-negative test is a COVID-19 test that shows someone tests negative for the virus, when they actually do have the virus. A false-positive test is the exact opposite situation, where a test incorrectly shows someone testing positive for the virus.
According to Beam, false-negatives are more prevalent than false-positives. Also, the rate of false-positive and false-negative test results is different depending on the type of test. According to the Associated Press, there are three broad categories of COVID-19 tests offered in the U.S. at the moment.
Other issues both the CRT and EPT are facing is finding local COVID-19 testing locations and the approximate time it takes to receive test results. Madsen said back in July, some testing sites took 13 days to release test results. Now, there are more local, walk-in testing sites that take 3 to 4 days for test results to return.
“Testing is helpful,” Beam said. “It’s also extra confusing because testing is so time-sensitive.”
Madsen and Hauck are both instructing exposed or symptomatic students to quarantine for 14 days. If an exposed student develops COVID-19 symptoms at least five days into their quarantine period, they are asked to get tested.
The reason the CDC requires exposed people to quarantine for 14 days is because COVID-19 symptoms can show up towards the end of the quarantine period.
Because of the quarantine guidelines, some Bethel classes have seen a drop in in-person attendance rates. As a response to students and faculty wondering how Bethel is doing in terms of preventing the virus from spreading, the EPT created and released a risk level.
The risk level is a color-coded system that evaluates the case rates of both Bethel’s campus and St. Joseph County. As of Oct. 5, the risk level is the color blue, meaning the case rate is low risk but requires increased readiness.