Three COVID-19 cases in KRNL staff


Natalie Parks

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the first KRNL staffer to test positive told the contact tracers the names of the other KRNL staffers with whom they had contact. After further interviews with the sources, the Kernel found out that the staffer did not tell contact tracers of their presence at the photoshoot and did not provide the names or numbers of KRNL staffers at the photoshoot to UK’s contact tracers. Thus, the basis of the previous story – that UK’s contact tracers had lagged on contacting exposed students – was proven incorrect. The Kernel strives to be truthful in its reporting and regrets the inaccuracies.

Editor’s note: the Kernel will not be publishing the names of those with positive tests involved in this story, or any other story, unless those students wish to come forward.

Three staffers from KRNL have tested positive for COVID-19 since participating in a fashion photoshoot on Monday, Aug. 10.

KRNL is a student-published fashion and lifestyle magazine. It is not a part of the newspaper Kentucky Kernel, but both are published by Kernel Media. KRNL Editor-in-Chief Rachael Courtney said the photoshoot was the first in-person event KRNL held since leaving school in March.

The first staffer to test positive was tested through UK’s testing service provided by Wild Health on Friday, Aug. 7, meaning the staffer did not contract COVID-19 at the photoshoot. The initial test was the test required for all students upon arrival on campus. The staffer received their positive result on Tuesday, Aug. 11, the day after the photoshoot. On the initial phone call with the UK contact tracer, the staffer did not tell the contact tracer they had been at the photoshoot. None of the 18 other staffers present at the photoshoot have been contacted by the contact tracers as a result of the miscommunication between the student and the contact tracer on the initial call.

“I told them everyone I was in contact with but missed two of my friends and the shoot,” the first staffer who tested positive told the Kernel. “It was one of the most stressful and overwhelming phone calls of my life and it’s something I just forgot to mention.”

After getting off the phone with the contact tracer, the staffer texted Courtney, who notified the other photoshoot participants. 

UK spokesperson Jay Blanton said that UK Health Corps is committed to keeping the community safe.

“That includes prioritizing an isolation protocol for students who test positive. Additionally, we are working as quickly as possible to notify through our contact tracing process those in our campus community who may have had some exposure as a result,” Blanton said.

In situations like KRNL’s, where a person who has tested positive did not mention everyone they had been around in an initial call with a contact tracer, Blanton said the person can reach back out to UK Health Corps through phone or email.

The email contact is [email protected] and the phone number is 859-218-SAFE (7233).

UK Health Corps employs 14 contact tracers, said Blanton, and all 14 completed the Johns Hopkins training course and shadowed contact tracers from UK Healthcare or Fayette County.

There were 19 people involved in the shoot, but they split into groups of nine and 10, wore masks and social distanced. Two positives were in the 10-person group and one positive in the nine-person group, according to Courtney.

The second KRNL staffer tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, Aug. 12, two days after the shoot. A third staffer tested positive on Sunday, Aug. 16, six days after the shoot, even after testing negative earlier in the week.

Both of those staffers received their positive results through a test at an urgent care center, meaning that even though they are UK students, their positive cases are not reflected in UK’s COVID-19 reporting page.

The KRNL staffers who tested positive through urgent care had tried to send their positive results to UK but weren’t sure where to send them, said Courtney.

Blanton said students who test positive can submit their results to University Health Services and that information is used to create a case file that can trigger contact tracing protocol if necessary.

Courtney said that both of the KRNL staffers who tested positive through urgent care centers had already tested negative through UK, but UK’s statistics only reflect their negative results, not their later positives.

UK’s case reporting runs on a three-day lag and currently shows 147 positive test results as of Aug. 13. Students who test positive through other testing services, like the KRNL staffers did, are not included in those results unless they submitted their test results to UK on their own.

The Lexington-Fayette County Health Department reported on Monday, Aug. 17, that 240 UK students had tested positive within the county.

KRNL staffers were told by Courtney and advisers to self-isolate beginning on Tuesday, Aug. 11, when the student with the initial positive result notified Courtney of his result. 

“We handled it the best we could, we were all quarantining after we got the positives back and have had that exposure, so we’re just going to wait until eight days and take another test and hope for the best,” Courtney said.

Student media adviser Ryan Craig said the advisers asked the students who tested positive or were exposed to stay out of the office and follow quarantine guidelines from UK and the state of Kentucky until they are cleared.

Some KRNL staffers went to get tested at the Walgreen’s rapid test drive-thru on Tuesday, Aug. 11, after learning of the positive case.

“We came back negative from that, including the staffer who tested positive yesterday (Sunday),” Courtney said of the rapid tests.

Even within quarantine, KRNL staffers are facing obstacles – Courtney said one staffer emailed a professor and explained that they would be missing class because they were isolating, and the professor said they needed to provide verification of their exposure. But without having heard from UK’s contact tracers, the staffer did not have any proof that she had been exposed to a case.