Ohio University's Baker Center

Ohio University’s Baker Center. Photo by Ben Peters.

All Ohio University students who live on campus and staff are required under university policy to take a survey each day to determine if they’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, but some students living in residence halls had no idea the survey existed or that they have to take it.

“I actually don’t know anything about the university enforcement of symptom checks, the only time I’ve ever heard about it is through the email from President Nellis [Thursday],” one student said.

That student, who was granted anonymity to protect him or her from any possible university punishment, has lived in a residence hall for nearly a week and said he or she wouldn’t have known the policy existed if a friend hadn’t sent a text about an email sent Thursday by OU President Duane Nellis, where he mentioned the requirement.

Upon students’ arrival in the dorms last weekend, the university gave them some personal protective equipment and thermometers to take their temperatures. Our student sources said that their Resident Assistants did not mention anything about the symptom check survey or that students are required to take it each day.

“It’s important to note that the RAs are not covering every single piece of policy — but they are certainly reinforcing the need for students to read the communications they receive from the president and the university, and they are monitoring to ensure people in compliance with mask wearing, social distancing and guest policy within the residence halls,” OU Spokesperson Carly Leatherwood said in a statement.

Leatherwood noted that information about the required survey has been published numerous times through multiple different channels, including on social media and in emails sent to students and parents prior to their move-in date and after.

The survey lists a host of possible symptoms of the virus and asks students to answer whether they experienced any in the past 24 hours, among other simple questions.

Those who receive a “red status” after completing the survey are required to remain off campus or self-isolate in their residence hall and seek medical attention, according to Nellis’ email.

Students found to have not taken the survey each day could be punished with a suspension, Leatherwood said. Though she declined to say exactly how the university is enforcing the policy given that the survey asks for no personal information from respondents.

“The symptom checker is designed to help people assess if they should come to campus or not. It is not intended to track cases on campus. The university is not tracking the symptom checker data,” Leatherwood said.

”When someone fills out the symptom checker they are expected to follow the directions, for example, whether or not they can come to campus. The university would certainly investigate any reports that a student or employee knowingly came to campus with symptoms.”

A public-facing method the university uses to track possible cases is through COVID-19 incident report forms where students and staff can submit confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases. Those who submit a report have the ability to share emails, photos or videos that may provide further evidence of a case’s existence.

Those forms can be submitted anonymously, but the university encourages those who submit to include their personal information.

Information submitted through the form will be used by a “non-clinical case manager to arrange any necessary cleaning for housing, office, and other facilities for on-campus students, faculty, and staff; to identify hot spots for COVID-19 infection; and to connect identified persons with services needed to successfully stay at home,” according Nellis’ email.

The university is conducting contact tracing in partnership with The Athens City-County Health Department. They also have a partnership with OhioHealth that includes a mechanism to report possible cases found through OhioHealth to the university, Leatherwood said.

OU said it plans to launch a COVID-19 dashboard “to provide information to the university community,” much like others school across the state have done to report virus cases that originate among students and staff. It’s unclear exactly when the dashboard will release. The university will share more “when we have additional details available,” Leatherwood said.

As of last Thursday, there has been one COVID-19 case found on campus since students moved in last weekend, according to data provided to the university by OhioHealth, she said.

Athens County has reported fewer than 10 new cases since students moved into residence halls, according to data from The Athens City-County Health Department.

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