Tufts Health Service will conduct outpatient visits through telemedicine indefinitely and implement new procedures for handling and testing potential COVID-19 patients to protect the safety of patients and clinicians from the spread of the coronavirus.
The policy was implemented on March 23 after being announced by Executive Vice President Mike Howard in a March 20 update email. The new procedures will be in place for the foreseeable future, according to Executive Director of Health and Wellness Services Michelle Bowdler.
“Our goal is to be able to provide limited onsite care at this time and to keep the building safe for both occupants and visitors,” Bowdler wrote in an email to the Daily.
To schedule an appointment, a student may call Health Service between 8:30 a.m. and 12 p.m. and between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. The student will be given an appointment time with a clinician and the clinician will set up an appointment over a phone call or a Webex meeting for further evaluation.
If the student reports upper respiratory symptoms, a fever or a cough, or has been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, the student may be directed to be tested for the virus at a tent outside of the Health Service building, according to Bowdler. The clinician will determine whether an onsite test is warranted.
Should a student require an in-person exam inside the building based on a symptom reported to the clinician unrelated to COVID-19, the student will be seen at Health Service at a certain time and will enter the building through a door designated for non-respiratory disease concerns, according to Howard in the March 20 update.
For handling students that may have contracted COVID-19, Health Service will continue to follow the same procedure that they have been following with partners from the Office of Residential Life and Learning, Dean of Student Affairs, Dining and Facilities, according to Bowdler.
After a student is tested, the student must remain isolated until the test result comes back. If the test is negative, the student is no longer required to be isolated. If the test comes back as positive, the student must remain in isolation until recovered, according to Bowdler.
“Health Service clinicians will contact isolated students [regularly] and advise a higher level of care if symptoms become serious,” Bowdler said.
Bowdler added that patients who have had only mild symptoms and have not needed hospitalization are considered recovered if they have not had a fever for three days without medication and their symptoms have substantially improved, or seven days from the onset of symptoms, whichever time period is longer.
Amy Yao, a student who is living on campus for the remainder of the semester, acknowledged the decision made by Health Service.
“I do [trust] Tufts Health Service to provide fast response and adequate support for the students who are remaining on campus,” Yao, a first-year, wrote in an email to the Daily.
Bowdler also said that Health Service is not the only medical care provider that has shut its doors for most visits.
“Many medical offices in Massachusetts and around the country are temporarily suspending or severely limiting routine medical care to protect the safety of patients to the greatest extent possible,” Bowdler said. “Elective surgeries have been cancelled and many dental practices are closing, except for emergency care.”
The decision to switch to telemedicine is unrelated to the fact that Tufts’ residence halls will be used to house coronavirus patients, as announced in University President Anthony Monaco’s Boston Globe op-ed, according to Bowdler.
While testing for COVID-19 at Health Service is expected to continue, Bowdler recognized that testing capabilities at other locations are expanding in the Boston area.
“Things are changing rapidly and other larger drive through tests are being set up throughout the city,” Bowdler said.
Bowdler also noted that Health Service will continue to follow the direction of government health officials.
“Well visits will be resumed at a later date and with guidance from our local and state health authorities,” Bowdler said.