The recent surge of the omicron variant has been a harsh reminder that the fight against COVID-19 is rarely the same from one week to the next. Or even one day to the next.
What made sense last month might not make sense now, and certainly won’t make sense later. There are constantly roadblocks emerging in the battle to limit the spread of the virus: new influxes of cases, updated medical evidence, changing policies and guidelines from government health departments, revised testing and vaccine regulations, etc.
For schools, colleges, and universities trying to keep students and staff safe, these roadblocks can be especially challenging to overcome. COVID-19 policies can take months to implement; changing them on the fly while still focusing on normal day-to-day educational responsibilities is virtually impossible.
However, having an experienced outside partner can significantly ease that burden. PubSEG is accustomed to facing these roadblocks … and has learned how to get past them.
“We’re always finding ways to adapt to our clients’ needs,” says Dawn Stolte, PubSEG’s Head of Operations. “When we hit a roadblock, we know what we need to do to recover and keep our contact training programs running seamlessly. Whatever the challenge, our team figures out a way to make it work.”
Here are three examples of PubSEG’s ability to quickly adapt to changing requirements:
1. Vaccines for grade school children
It wasn’t until the first week in November that the CDC officially recommended the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11. Suddenly, K-12 schools that had no vaccine contingencies in place for children under 12 had to adapt their COVID-19 policies to differentiate between vaccinated and unvaccinated in that age group. Schools also needed ways to monitor vaccination status and address exemption requests.
“We had schools say, ‘Hey, we’re doing a good job, but now our grade school students under 12 are getting vaccinated. How are we going to change our program to make sure we include vaccinated people and that we ask the right questions?’ ” Stolte explains. “We were able to help them with that, and also help them monitor the vaccination status of their students.”
2. Changing government guidelines
Stolte jokes that Los Angeles County, where PubSEG has multiple clients, has changed its COVID-19 policies “a million times” over the past few months.
It obviously hasn’t been that bad, but a quick Google search reveals that the county has updated its policies several times since the start of school in the fall. That makes perfect sense—as COVID-19 trends change and more knowledge is obtained, it would be foolish for policies not to change also. But that can seriously complicate contact tracing, testing, and quarantine protocols already in place.
And it’s not just at the local level. The CDC also has changed its guidelines based on the latest evidence, most recently shortening its isolation and quarantine recommendations from 10 days to five in certain circumstances. And new polices such as “Test to Stay” have emerged as ways to keep more students in school.
Each time the CDC or local health departments have updated their guidelines, PubSEG has had to quickly revise its programs to ensure schools are keeping up with the new policies.
“Sometimes, it does feel like we’re building the plane as we’re flying it,” Stolte jokes, “but the important thing is we’re helping schools do whatever is necessary to protect their students and staff based on the latest available data.”
3. Ensuring that COVID polices are not being abused
At one of the colleges we partner with, a small segment of students decided to use COVID-related symptoms as an excuse to skip classes for an extended period of time and miss exams, even if there was no evidence they had the virus or were exposed. They justified their absence by claiming PubSEG’s contact tracers told them they couldn’t go to class.
With the school’s help, we addressed this attempt to “rig the system.” We called the students in question more often and strongly encouraged them to get tested, reminding them that if they did not take the required steps to return to campus by a specific date, there could be disciplinary action. By increasing the frequency of our callbacks and updating our messaging about testing, we were able to ensure the students complied with the policies.
Contact tracing involves many different factors, and there are new challenges every day. Policies that are dozens of pages long are sometimes only as good as the latest headlines. The ability to react quickly without disrupting the day-to-day operations is essential.
PubSEG has learned to accept these roadblocks as a reality of the job, and we know how to deal with them. The important thing is to do what we can to keep your school community safe, even if that often means adapting on the fly.
If you’re looking for a partner in the fight to limit the spread of COVID-19, give us a call. We welcome whatever challenges lie ahead.