Thursday, May 28

Op-ed: UCLA, LA health officials effectively collaborated to prevent spread of measles

The Daily Bruin’s recent editorial criticizing the university’s response to a measles outbreak not only mischaracterized UCLA’s actions, but did not include all of the facts. This was a complex operation that involved an array of UCLA departments and units, as well as Los Angeles County public health officials.

We feel it is important to set the record straight.

Immediately after being notified by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health on April 22 that one of our students had contracted measles and had attended classes at Franz Hall and Boelter Hall, the Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center worked with the registrar’s office to produce a list of students, faculty and staff who may have been exposed.

Approximately 850 students were quickly contacted via secure message. Using immunization records on file at the Ashe Center, all but around 124 were cleared. These actions took place before LAC DPH issued its quarantine order.

Following the quarantine notification from the county health department, those individuals not cleared were contacted by the Ashe Center, the Office of the Dean of Students or LAC DPH so they could show proof of immunization, be tested for measles immunity or be subject to quarantine until the conclusion of the incubation period. In addition, seven faculty members were contacted and cleared by UCLA’s Occupational Health Facilities.

Within hours of being notified of the quarantine order by LAC DPH on April 24, UCLA Housing and Residential Life departments established an isolation facility at Tom Bradley International Hall where officials from the Ashe Center established a phlebotomy laboratory to test students who were not able to produce proof of immunization. Students who were directed to or voluntarily reported to Bradley Hall had access to beds, TVs, food, games and medical staff, as well as staff from other offices, to support their needs. Before the end of the day, the chancellor issued his message to the UCLA community, informing the campus of the quarantine order.

UCLA undertook extraordinary measures to contact students subject to the quarantine, including multiple emails, phone calls and actual visits to student dorm rooms or apartments if they lived in university housing on or off campus. Additionally, staff from the Dean of Students office visited classrooms to remove students who did not respond to the university’s repeated communications. The few students who could not be reached by these efforts were located by LAC DPH investigators.

University officials worked around-the-clock with the assistance of the county health department investigators, contacting and locating students and faculty members on the quarantine list.

The swift and effective actions by the Ashe Center, working in cooperation with other UCLA departments, allowed the vast majority of potentially exposed students to quickly return to their classes and regular schedules.

In the end, only 23 students had to remain isolated for the entire six-day period of the quarantine. And despite the large number of individuals exposed, quick and effective actions by different UCLA campus departments, as well as the high percentage of immunizations among our students, contributed to containing the exposure and ensuring, as it turned out, that no one else contracted the disease.

The quarantine has now expired, but the Ashe Center’s efforts to raise awareness among our students about the importance of being immunized continue.

The Ashe Center is sending emails to about 7,500 UCLA students for whom it still does not have current documentation about their measles immunization. The center also scheduled a measles immunity fair Tuesday so students could get vaccinated or have blood drawn to show immunity to measles.

County public health officials have consistently praised the university for its close collaboration and its timely notification of individuals who might have been exposed to prevent the spread of the disease.

But as in any emergency response, there’s always room for improvement. As is customary in the aftermath of all emergency situations, UCLA will be thoroughly reviewing all its actions with an eye to where it can make enhancements, including in communications to students. But taking a critical look at what needs to be strengthened should not blind us to all that went right.

Bollard is the interim co-executive director of the Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center. Blandizzi is UCLA’s dean of students.

John Bollard

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