In accordance with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s (DPH) reopening protocol for institutions of higher education, LMU has established a COVID Support Team. The team aims to provide resources and support for those on campus who may have been exposed to COVID-19.
The initiative started after DPH released guidance and protocols over the summer for institutions that sought to reopen. Included in such protocols was a mandate for universities to establish a contact tracing team, according to Heather Hoffman, the director of emergency management with LMU’s Department of Public Safety. Contact investigation is the primary responsibility of the COVID Support Team.
There are currently 15 members on the team from the Department of Public Safety, Human Resources, Athletics, Student Affairs and Loyola Law School, according to Hoffman. Each member has taken an in-depth six to eight hour training course through Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health on contact tracing and handling phone calls from individuals seeking support.
If a student tests positive for COVID-19, the COVID Support Team will begin a contact investigation. Individuals who are identified as having been in close contact with someone who has tested positive will be contacted by the team and asked to quarantine for 14 days. DPH requires universities to have available housing for students to quarantine. However, since students residing on campus are living in their own apartments at this time, isolation housing is not a concern as it was when the campus was expected to open for the fall 2020 semester, according to Hoffman.
The University is also required to test students who have been exposed on campus, however this process is not done by the COVID Support Team. Student Health Services has been providing tests for students residing on campus who show symptoms of the illness and those who have been in close contact with a student who has tested positive, according to Katharine Arce, the director of LMU Student Health Services.
“We follow county protocol,” said Hoffman. “So all of our guidance, all of our instructions come from the county or the state if the state has released something that directs us on how to handle contact investigation.”
DPH has been specific on who may have access to COVID-19 resources provided by the University, according to Hoffman. The COVID Support Team is only responsible for those who have access to campus, whether it be a residing student, faculty of staff member, athlete, visitor or vendor.
The team functions independently of the various departments that its members hail from, and all information of individuals who seek support will remain confidential.
While the COVID Support Team and University are preparing for return in the spring, DPH has made it known that it will not make any decisions regarding the reopening of higher education institutions until after Thanksgiving. In his community message on Oct. 19, Executive Vice President and Provost Thomas Poon expressed his confidence that the University is ready to welcome students back to campus and that “limited, low-density, in-person classes” will commence as soon as the DPH will allow.
“As all universities in the region, we’re just preparing for the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario,” said Hoffman. “We’re in contact with the county on almost a weekly basis trying to get updates but at this time they haven’t even released protocol for the spring yet. We don’t know what spring could look like if we can reopen.”
Currently the only on-campus activities permitted by the DPH include: on-campus housing limited to those with no other housing alternative, “education, training and other support for essential workforce activities,” activities required for faculty and staff to perform remote learning or research projects, “any activities carried out as part of State or County COVID-19 response” and collegiate athletic activities in compliance with the California Department of Public Health guidance.
Poon emphasized that in order for campus activity to expand, LA County must move out of its tier 1 assignment in California’s “blueprint for reducing COVID-19.”
“Remain six feet apart at all times,” said Hoffman. “The county defines, and I believe the CDC defines a close contact with someone [as] within six feet of an infectious individual for over fifteen minutes. [So] if you are not within six feet of anyone for over 15 min…You’re protecting yourself.”
Individuals can reach the COVID Support Team at 310.568.6868 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The team may also be reached through the University’s main phone number or by emailing COVIDSupportTeam@lmu.edu