Students, faculty report mixed opinions on university contact tracing through Lafene Health Center

Lafene Health Center began reporting contact tracing data of on-campus students to the Riley County Health Department on Sept. 16. (Archived photo by Alex Todd | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State recently partnered with the Riley County Health Department to expand COVID-19 contact tracing to student athletes and on-campus students. The response from students, faculty and staff is mixed.

Contact tracing is a public health tool created to alert individuals who have been in contact with a positive case of an illness like COVID-19. The process involves identifying individuals at risk, contacting them and asking them to test and quarantine.

Previously, the county didn’t have access to trace cases in on-campus students. However, on Sept.16, Lafene Health Center expanded the initiative to provide on-campus contact tracing information to the health department.

The health department previously used this method to keep track of off-campus students and faculty members. The partnership with Lafene creates a wider bandwidth of information for the county to work with.

While many people are open to the idea of contact tracing, some consider it a controversial topic.

Dan Biles, Kansas supreme court justice and visiting professor of practice in journalism and mass communications, said giving up some privacy in these times is worth it to fight COVID-19 in his personal opinion.

“I have no personal objection to having an app loaded on my phone to track me,” Biles said. “People can track me all they want if it helps fight this virus.”

Biles’ daughter works at the University of Kansas Medical Center, and he said she’s spoken to him about the benefits of contact tracing.

“She told me that contact tracing helped [the medical center] keep an eye on the virus and how it spread, so I can imagine bringing [contact tracing] to campus would help fight it quite a bit,” Biles said.

Some students directly oppose Biles’ position on contact tracing, claiming it’s an overreach by both the university and local government.

“It is an invasion of privacy, especially when the student lives off-campus,” Matt Kirkland, senior in construction science, said.

Jack Roenne, senior in agricultural economics, said he feels taking private information without consent shouldn’t be the government’s role in fighting COVID-19.

“I don’t live on-campus, but my little sister does, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable with anyone in my family, especially my little sister, having her private information given to the government by Kansas State,” Roenne said.