Just five days into his stint as a COVID-19 checkpoint worker, PhD student Dan Sisler had the system down pat.
“Hi, Jim, how are you doing?” he said, using an infrared thermometer to assess a researcher’s temperature near the Hensel Phelps Auditorium in the RC1 building on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
“Catch anyone yet?” the researcher asked with a sly smile.
“Not yet,” Sisler replied.
The researcher grabbed a wristband.
“Have a good one,” he told Sisler. “You guys are doing a great job.”
A common purpose
In the time of COVID-19, where stress and fear permeate much of our daily lives, friendly encounters like this go a long way toward making the reopening of campus less painful for everyone. Collectively, they signify how the CU Anschutz campus community (#CUAnschutzTogether) draws on our common purpose and coming together to support one another.
Employees coming to work, students and other campus visitors must pass through a checkpoint where temperatures are taken before heading to offices, clinics or labs. The procedure is short and painless.
Dan Sisler, a PhD student at CU Anschutz, takes the temperature of a visitor to campus.
“I think everyone is just trying to roll with it as much as they can right now,” said Lisa Marie Carrillo, customer service and design lead in Design & Print Services, who has been working the CU Anschutz checkpoints since they started in May.
But even three months in, Carrillo said some anxiety lingers about the process.
“I think if you don’t know what to expect, it can be intimidating,” she said.
Creating a safe return to campus
Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) launched and staffed two checkpoints (along with several Design & Print Services employees) at the outset of the CU Anschutz’s Return to Campus procedures. As checkpoint volumes increased – about 1,000 a day in May to over 2,500 per day currently – more checkpoints and workers were needed. The four checkpoints are now staffed with a mix of EHS staff, researcher volunteers and student workers.
On a recent Friday morning, business was brisk at the Hensel Phelps checkpoint. The four workers kept people moving quickly through two lines.
Those checking in first met a greeter who reviewed their “cleared-for-check-in” email against a daily list of those who’ve completed the online COVID-19 attestation questionnaire. Next up was a temperature reading. If normal, those screened grabbed a colored wristband to wear the rest of the day on campus.
“This checkpoint has a pretty steady flow of people so the mornings go by pretty quickly,” Sisler said. “Everybody seems to know the process and understand the reasons for it.”
Minimizing the spread – together
Mercedes Rincon, PhD, a professor of immunology and microbiology at the CU School of Medicine, immediately volunteered to help with the campus’s gradual reopening. Her elderly father lives in Spain, and her sister’s family is in Italy, two countries hit hard by the coronavirus.
“I have been aware of how serious and frightening this pandemic is,” she said. “The only way to control the pandemic was with a very strict lockdown.”
She likes the phased reopening of campus with the daily check-in procedures.
“Asking for each person’s health status and checking temperatures will help those who otherwise may be arriving sick stay at home,” she said. “While we maybe can’t avoid 100% of cases, we can minimize them.”
With a rise in Colorado COVID-19 cases, Rincon said she is a “true believer” in the checkpoints and suggests that “we should all volunteer” in the effort.
“The reality is that we will all benefit if we minimize a potential spreading within our campus,” she said.
Improving the process
There’ve been a few bumps along the way. Some people get frustrated when told they need to go through more than one check-in. The wristband from a CU Anschutz checkpoint signifies access to both hospitals. However, check-ins at either hospital do not result in a wristband, meaning those people, while cleared for hospital entry, still must clear a CU Anschutz checkpoint to go elsewhere on campus.
Signs about some of the protocols for screenings and a safe return to campus are placed at the entrance to the Hensel Phelps check-in screening station.
There have also been occasional glitches to the online check-in system due to routine maintenance.
“Everyone is pretty understanding once we explain that the check-in (glitch) is a university-wide login update, and it’s not just something happening at this check-in site,” Carrillo said.
EHS employee Julie McMillen, who typically works Friday mornings, said the check-in procedure has become more streamlined.
“Every week we’ve made improvements with the process – it’s smoother,” she said.
Checkpoint improvements include more hand sanitizer stations, faster and more-accurate thermometers and doors being left open at checkpoint building entrances. The latter eliminates badging-in at the building and touching door handles.
‘A different world’
McMillen said people occasionally arrive at a checkpoint not realizing they received a “fail” on the online questionnaire. It’s generally the result of mistakenly clicking the wrong button and is quickly resolved at the check-in table.
If a person’s temperature registers too high, they are allowed to go through the checkpoint, but are asked to return in 30 minutes.
“Everyone we’ve asked to come back has come back,” Carrillo said. “And I haven’t seen anyone who came back who still had a high temperature.”
If a temperature remains too high, the person is instructed to contact their supervisor as well as an occupational health professional who is in charge of contact tracing for the campus. The health specialist then triages the case and determines next steps – including possible COVID-19 testing or quarantine.
By the end of July, 110,000 people had gone through the campus checkpoints. With greater numbers checking in every week as part of the phased return to campus, more volunteers and students are sought for checkpoint duty. As of late July, students worked 30% of the shifts.
Sisler plans to work as long as they need him.
“It’s a different world we’re living in,” he said.
Campus checkpoints and hours:
- Campus Services Entrance: main west entrance - follow signage to station outside T36-113.
Hours: 5 a.m. - 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. - 5 p.m. M-F
- Fulginiti Pavilion
Hours 7 a.m. - 1 p.m. M-F
- Hensel Phelps Entrance: main west RC1N entrance - follow signage to station in hallway outside of P18-1004.
Hours: 7 a.m. - 5 p.m. M-F
- Strauss Health Sciences Library
Hours: 7 a.m. - 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. - 3 p.m. M-F
- After Hours Self-Service Check-In: Hensel Phelps Lobby