COVID-19 cases are rising in Athens. It’s not hard to miss the daunting COVID-19 case counter on Court Street telling everyone to “Mask Up” as the little orange numbers increase every day. However, alongside the growing number of coughs, sneezes and fevers that accompany the mounting cases, Ohio University students are facing another unexpected side effect: a lacking COVID-19 response from the school.
It is important to note it’s not from a lack of trying. COVID Operations personnel are working tirelessly to abide by the system set in place for the school. Unfortunately, the system itself was not made to process as many cases as the school is seeing, especially not with the current number of COVID Operations staff available. There are simply not enough employees to process the influx of cases.
A lack of staff leads to a system where COVID Operations can no longer answer the phone, typically sending incoming calls straight to voicemail and then calling back when they can. For students unsure of their situation who want to minimize their risk to the rest of the student body, this automated response feels cold and uncaring.
Sometimes the system becomes so overwhelmed that students are unable to receive a response from COVID Operations until after their ten-day symptomatic period. This leaves students wandering around campus when they should be isolating safely, only for the university to ask them to isolate after they have already overcome the virus. This is both frustrating for the individual student and potentially dangerous for others on campus.
Students have also reported difficulty or an inability to contact COVID Operations on weekends or holidays. It is understandable that an already limited staff would not work seven days a week. Unfortunately, this causes a large influx of cases as soon as they return to office, which can be overwhelming and further delay cases that may already be several days old.
This request is not impossible, especially since the system has proven capable of positive change. Take the university’s symptomatic student policy for example. In order to be extra cautious, the university flags any student with reported symptoms as a potential COVID-19 case. This policy used to allow for very little wiggle room, treating anyone with any symptoms whatsoever as a COVID-19 case, rather than a potential COVID-19 case. One student reported trying to be proactive about their headache and was asked to go into isolation immediately without a test, prompting students who heard his story to never want to report symptoms to COVID Operations.
However, the system has since adapted for the better. Now symptomatic students are allowed a small period of time to make sure they do not have COVID-19 before going home or into the isolation halls, during which they work with COVID operations and campus care in order to determine how to safely ensure they don’t have COVID-19. While working with OU, the student self-isolates until they can safely determine their COVID-19 status. This version of the system is a dramatic improvement, as it allows students to make sure they have COVID-19 before being sent to COVID housing, while still treating potential cases with the gravity they deserve.
My advice? COVID Operations needs to hire more employees and stay open on weekends. In hiring extra employees, they would be able to have the office open more consistently. If they were to hire student callers the cost would not be expensive to the university, and students would be able to speak to someone about their concerns rather than leaving a voicemail and hoping for a return call. These small tweaks would do wonders for the efficiency and efficacy of OU’s COVID-19 response.
The COVID Operations employees are doing a wonderful job especially with how overwhelmed they must be, but they need to hire more employees in order to make the process more accessible and helpful to students, as well as in an effort to ease their own schedules. If students could speak with an individual as soon as they call, it would cut down on stress for all involved and even make the university safer. The best way to stop the spread on campus is to better the COVID-19 response.
If you are experiencing COVID-19 or COVID-19-like symptoms, please notify COVID Operations. This information is not intended to encourage students to avoid the service. It is intended only to better the system, not discourage its use. Contacting COVID Operations is by far the best option if you are experiencing COVID-19-like symptoms or have been exposed, both for you and the rest of the student body.
Katie Milliard is a sophomore studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. What are your thoughts? Tell Katie by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.