“The greatest benefit was the Canton & Company team’s expert public health guidance regarding the risks associated with COVID-19, ways to reduce the spread among the campus community, and establishing thresholds for continuing and/or ceasing campus operations.”
Oglethorpe University needed a strategic approach and a detailed execution plan to safely open its campus to residential students and staff for fall semester 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the goal of keeping the campus open for the full academic year.
The university sought to:
- Follow public health guidelines
- Institute effective COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and quarantine protocols
- Engage students in health and safety practices, such as social distancing and face coverings
- Provide communications and public reporting
- Scale up the execution plan as needed
- Prepare for contingencies, including ceasing campus operations if needed
“After exploring several consulting options for public health guidance for the university’s COVID-19 response strategy, we decided to proceed with Canton & Company because of their integrated and comprehensive approach,” said Michelle Hall, Vice President for Campus Life for Oglethorpe University.
Campus: 100 acres
Mascot: Stormy Petrel
Canton & Company’s senior medical team, led by Michael Consuelos, MD, MBA, Executive Medical Officer, assisted Oglethorpe’s COVID-19 Task Force in creating a structured playbook and a multidimensional response plan. The goal was to reduce COVID-19 transmission.
“The experience working with Dr. Consuelos and the Canton team was outstanding,” Hall said. “The expert knowledge they provided was of tremendous value, and we could consistently count on their feedback and suggestions at any time during our planning process and beyond.”
Solution: Population testing
- Baseline testing was used to test all students for COVID-19 on move-in day.
- Weekly testing was used to test 10 percent of the population during the semester.
- Waste water was tested for each residence hall to identify potential cases.
“Guidance and feedback for all of the measures introduced to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19 on campus has been invaluable,” said Hall.
Solution: Social distancing and limited social grouping
- For two weeks prior to coming to campus, students maintained enhanced social distancing, known as the “Petrel Pause.”
- Students lived in single-occupancy rooms in residence halls and participated in remote or hybrid learning.
- Students limited on-campus social groups to just six people, known as “Petrel Pods.”
“The Petrel Pods allowed students to work out or eat together, while still feeling safe,” Dr. Consuelos said. “If anyone in the pod tested positive for COVID-19, the others were notified of potential exposure, not naming any specific individual. The pod members were then directed to follow quarantine and testing protocol, which limited the potential for spreading the virus.”
Solution: Secure symptom monitoring and case management
- Canton & Company recommended the LifeguardRx® app as a platform for individuals to complete a simple self-screening report once a day to track COVID-19 symptoms.
- Those with symptoms received immediate instructions from the app for testing and quarantine with real-time follow-up from case managers.
- Health information was kept secure in compliance with federal regulations.
Solution: Student accountability supported by behavioral economics
- Students committed to the “Petrel Pledge,” a social contract that held them accountable for testing, daily symptom reporting, social distancing, mask-wearing, and other responsibilities.
- A COVID-19 Handbook outlined policies, procedures and a code of conduct for the campus community to follow.
“The Petrel Pledge created a sense of accountability, and the actions taken by students created social cues that encouraged everyone to follow plan protocols,” Dr. Consuelos said.
Solution: Frequent communication
- Weekly updates on a dedicated COVID-19 page on the university’s website helped commuters, residential students, parents, and the community understand protocols and results.
- The Canton & Company team connected with university leaders each week to evaluate the status of the campus and next steps.
- Residence hall assistants and athletic coaches monitored adherence for daily symptom reporting with the app and encouraged student engagement.
Solution: Facilities Management
- Staff installed acrylic barriers in classrooms and created one-way traffic patterns for walking paths in common areas.
- HVAC systems across campus were upgraded with ionization technology, and air handling units had Merv-13 filters installed.
The partnership between Oglethorpe and Canton allowed more than 200 students to live on campus and attend virtual classes for fall semester. University leaders scaled up the pandemic plan for spring semester and welcomed nearly 400 students living on campus and 340 commuters, attending classes with a hybrid learning model.
“From items as detailed as our COVID-19 Handbook and Campus Protection Guide, to our more frequent weekly communication from the COVID-19 Task Force, the Canton team’s input was always provided and welcomed,” Hall said. “Not only was the entire team’s knowledge a great asset to us, but their professionalism and commitment to our goals was continuously on display.”
Result: Few cases of COVID-19
- Only eight cases occurred among on-campus residents during fall semester, with three of those identified upon arrival.
- Zero cases were reported for fall semester after Thanksgiving break.
- Just 20 cases were identified for spring semester as of March 4, 2021.
“The ultimate result of the Petrel Pause was successful, as all campus residents tested negative for COVID-19 upon arrival to campus on move-in day for spring semester,” Hall said.
Result: Adherence led to more students living on campus and shifting to hybrid learning
- Among students living on campus, 100 percent used the LifeguardRx mobile app, with an average 92 percent daily compliance rate.
- Athletics continued with multi-weekly testing as a qualification for training or competition.
- Spring semester began with hybrid learning and twice the number of students living on campus.
“Other universities had to close their campuses, but with a multilayer approach that protected students and staff, Oglethorpe was able to remain open with no outbreaks and no hospitalizations,” said Dr. Consuelos. “That’s amazing considering that Oglethorpe University is located in a county that has witnessed some widespread surges in cases of COVID-19.”
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