From varying quarantine lengths to advice about what activities are permitted while in quarantine, students say they received conflicting guidance from Lafene Health Center and the Riley County Health Department about how to manage possible COVID-19 exposures.
Rajat Kodira, an undergraduate student, knew he had been exposed to COVID-19 because his roommate — who had been to the bars in Aggieville — was starting to show symptoms and eventually tested positive. Kodira also shares a bathroom with this roommate, which he believed heightened his chances of contracting COVID-19 himself.
Kodira says he was in contact with local health officials immediately after his roommate started showing symptoms. The health department informed him that his quarantine would end on Tuesday, Sept. 22, based on his last possible exposure to his roommate.
On the other hand, Lafene, where he eventually tested negative, told him he could leave his quarantine on Thursday, Sept. 17 — a discrepancy of five days.
Lafene medical director Dr. Kyle Goerl said the only way such a discrepancy could occur is if a student gives Lafene or the health department different or incomplete data, something Kodira denies outright.
“Personally, I wouldn’t fabricate information regarding public health and my exposure details. I was very honest with both parties,” Kodira said.
Garrett Menees, junior in mass communications, wasn’t told conflicting information about when his quarantine ended, but said Lafene told him he was allowed to go to the grocery store during his quarantine even though someone was positive in his household.
His roommate tested positive, but Menees was negative. Still, it concerned him he was told he could go out in public in the middle of his quarantine — something that directly contradicted formal guidance from local health officials.
“It did surprise me that they were being so sort of lenient on that,” Menees said.
He didn’t leave his house during his isolation period “out of courtesy” to others in the community, he said.
Menees said there was also some confusion about when his last point of exposure to a person with COVID-19 was, but that didn’t have too much impact on his overall quarantine length because Lafene and the health department agreed on when it should end.
“Maybe that was my personal error and telling them the wrong day. I don’t think I did, but I suppose there is a chance of that,” Menees said. “It was just kind of like a weird disconnect.”
Local health officer Julie Gibbs said the mixed messages about quarantine and other information could have been caused by any number of variables on either side of the contact tracing procedure.
“We’re all humans and people do make mistakes so there could be something there,” Gibbs said. “The bottom line — there are lots of mistakes that could have been made.”
In general, campus and local health officials follow the same quarantine guidance from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Gibbs said, which requires people to quarantine for 14 days from their last point of contact with a person known to have COVID-19 no matter their test results.
“We are all on the same page as far as that’s concerned,” Gibbs said.
Sill, she said, situations with mixed messages or contradictory advice aren’t unheard of.
Kodira says he thinks this situation shows a breakdown in the system of communication between Lafene and local health officials. However, he understands that the health system locally and around the world faces a public health crisis unlike any other in recent history.
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“I understand that they’re extremely overwhelmed. I mean, a pandemic of this severity affecting a smaller town, … it’s something that they’re just not equipped for,” Kodira said.
Presumably, Kodira said, there should be a way for the two organizations to share information with each other about students who come in contact with or test positive for COVID-19.
“I feel like if they were cross-checking each other’s information regarding people who have been exposed or who come up positive then they have the means in which they can sort that out,” Kodira said.
Menees agreed. He thinks some of the confusion about his date of contact originated from switching care from the health department to Lafene. If they were truly working together there wouldn’t be room for doubt.
“I thought that they would share that information with Lafene but I guess that’s not true,” Menees said.
Gibbs said there is a collaboration between the health department and Lafene that predates the pandemic.
As it relates to COVID-19, there is an active Memorandum of Understanding that outlines how the entities will collaborate to control the spread of the novel coronavirus locally. Specifically, it details how Lafene will manage cases in on-campus residents while RCHD will focus on off-campus cases. That being said, the local health department maintains complete authority over all cases in the county.
“We’ve already met with them to make sure that our process is the same and make sure that we’re telling all the same information and so far that partnership has gone very well,” Gibbs said.
Goerl said he wasn’t aware of any specific cases of unaligned advice from Lafene and RCHD about COVID-19, but it’s not impossible.
“This is a process that relies on information sharing and information … it changes. … That’s just the nature of medicine,” Goerl said. “I’ve got to believe that it’s probably a few isolated cases and it’s not a larger issue. If it’s a larger issue then obviously we can work through that … but I don’t get the sense and haven’t been made aware that we’re dealing with something bigger.”
If contact tracers do encounter discrepancies in what a person under their supervision has been told — either by primary care providers or contact tracers in other counties — Gibbs said they follow up as soon as possible with the other health care personnel.
Goerl said if Lafene is made aware of conflicting information about quarantine length or anything else related to COVID-19 exposure, it can call RCHD to sort through the situation.
“We’ll reach out to the health department and say ‘Hey, can we work through this case together’ and [we’ll] figure out why there’s a difference,” Goerl said.
If students or community members do encounter conflicting advice from primary care providers or health officials, Gibbs said they should ask clarifying questions.
“I would just really recommend anyone who is getting conflicting information go ahead and follow up with that contact tracer and just make sure that they have all the correct information,” Gibbs said.
Goerl seconded that.
“In that situation it’s just good to call and have a conversation — we can work through it,” he said.
People with non-emergent questions about COVID-19 in Riley County can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.