Director of student health discusses testing, contact tracing and VCU’s other COVID-19 efforts

Margaret Roberson answers questions about protocols at Student Health Services, what students should do if they start to experience symptoms and how to stay safe as we move into the fall.

The university sports medicine and student health building.
In this 2017 file photo, a VCU student approaches the university sports medicine and student health building. Due to the pandemic, all services at University Student Health Services are currently by appointment only. (File photo, University Marketing)

Margaret D. Roberson, M.D., director of VCU Student Health Services, is playing an important role in helping Virginia Commonwealth University implement its COVID-19 testing protocols and helping students stay safe this semester. She spoke with VCU News about testing, protocols for students when they are experiencing symptoms and what happens when a student tests positive for the virus. 

Margaret Roberson, M.D.
Margaret Roberson, M.D.

What have you done at the health center to make it a safe place?

We totally rearranged our waiting areas at both clinics (Monroe Park Campus at 1300 W. Broad St., Suite 2200 and MCV Campus at 1000 E. Marshall St., Room 305). We have social distancing. Every chair is 6 feet apart. We changed to plastic chairs so we could wipe them down thoroughly. We installed Plexiglas at the front desk and at the pharmacy windows. We want to provide protection for both staff and patients. Patients are required to wear a mask when they come in. We screen them when they come in — checking their temperature and finding out if they have any COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19. 

What should students do if they start to experience COVID-like symptoms?

They should call us so we can arrange testing and advise them about self-isolation. We need to find out who they have been in contact with and advise those people to quarantine. During a COVID-19 evaluation, we not only ask about their symptoms but also about any of their contacts. VCU has a contact tracing team that is in partnership with the Virginia Department of Health. 

Have students been inquiring about testing? How has the testing process been so far?

We have been very busy. The majority of our visits are COVID-19 related. We have been very fortunate to have a partnership with VCU Health, which helps us with telehealth COVID-19 evaluations. If we determine a student needs testing, they get a virtual visit with an urgent care clinic. The testing is then ordered. They can be tested [for free] on the Monroe Park Campus at RamBikes and on the MCV Campus at the Nelson Clinic.

[Testing has] gone very smoothly. We had limited testing initially, but now we are able to test and get the results back within 24 hours. VCU Health is also offering prevalence testing, where staff and students volunteer to be tested. We are always looking for more volunteers. It’s at no cost to them. It’s important because that will give us a sense of the volume of asymptomatic patients in our VCU community.

What happens when a student tests positive?

If they are a residential student, then we put them in the isolation dorm and we put their contacts in quarantine. Residential Life and Housing provides meals and any sort of laundry needs. For off-campus students, we give guidance on self-isolation and quarantine. Students who test positive must self-isolate for a minimum of 10 days, be fever free for 24 hours (without medications) and have their symptoms  improving. To leave quarantine, it must be 14 days from your last contact with a patient positive for COVID-19.

What general advice would you give students this semester?

You really need to socially distance. That is one of the key things along with good hand hygiene. Wearing a face covering is helpful to protect others but the mask does not protect you, so social distancing is what you need to do. If you feel symptomatic, please stay home. Call us and we can arrange testing. Don’t go to class. Don’t go to public spaces. We can get you tested quickly. That way we can make sure everyone is being safe.

What are your recommendations as we move into cold and flu season? 

People should continue the same things that they are doing to protect themselves from COVID-19 but also make sure they get a flu shot, because we know it is going to be difficult to differentiate influenza from COVID-19 infections. A flu shot is a protection against the flu, and we offer free flu shots to all students.

People are working hard to keep VCU safe. How effective has this been?

It’s obviously concerning that we have positive cases, but we have very good protocols in place for isolation and quarantining. I think we are doing a good job. 

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