The lack of transparency in COVID-19 protocols put students at risk
Since late 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has defined a close contact as someone who has been within six feet of a person who has COVID-19 for 15 minutes over a span of 24 hours. Brandeis has stated on their COVID-19 dashboard that they follow these protocols as. However, the University also stated in a Jan. 7 email that each positive test is dealt with on a case-by-case basis. According to Michelle Hart, lead administrator of the Brandeis Community Tracing Program, “The protocols currently in place are created and approved by the Clinical Director at the Brandeis Health Center, BCTP, and the members of the Brandeis Steering Committee with input from the [Local Board of Health], [Massachusetts Department of Public Health], and current CDC guidelines. Data is reviewed daily to ensure the protocols in place are reflective of the current COVID dynamics at Brandeis.”
However, despite this seemingly well-informed protocol, the BCTP refused to touch base with one member of this editorial board who fit the CDC-definition of a close contact. This took place despite another close contact giving the board member’s name to the BCTP from the beginning. This member took between a week and a week-and-a-half to test positive, during which they were still not contacted by BCTP. According to Hart, “Any student who has questions about exposure to COVID should reach out to …firstname.lastname@example.org.”
This board understands that both Brandeis and the BCTP are adhering to CDC protocols to determine whether a student quarantines or goes into isolation. However, there is no protocol for students who wish to stay safe and quarantine if they feel they could test positive in the near future.
If a student has not tested positive, is asymptomatic, or has been in contact with someone who has COVID-19 for less than 15 minutes but still wants to quarantine or isolate to keep others safe, there is no guidance for that student. If that student does end up testing positive, they will have put people at risk for the days leading up to their result against their will.
We ask that the Brandeis Community Tracing Program clarify what to do in these situations, as well as listen to students’ concerns and work with them to give the student an option that makes them feel safe.
In addition to the confusing guidelines for what students should be doing to prevent spreading COVID-19 in some circumstances, the Brandeis Health Center has tried to block some students from taking their own precautions when they had health concerns. A different member of this editorial board was told by a nurse at the Health Center that they were “irresponsible” for having their vaccinated parents bring them home after they tested positive for COVID-19. This board member was clear with the nurse that their parents understood the risks of COVID-19 and that the alternative to going home — isolation housing at 567 South Street — would not be sufficient for accommodating the board member’s medical needs. The board member was still urged to stay on campus, even if it would endanger their own health.
This board asks that the Health Center takes into account the disabilities and medical needs of students who test positive. If 567 cannot accommodate the student and the student makes their own arrangements, they should not be told they’re being “irresponsible.” Additionally, for students who are unable to accommodate their disabilities on their own, there needs to be communication as to how that student can both stay safe and be accommodated through the duration of their illness.
A third member of this board had someone on their floor in a hall-style building test positive for COVID-19. However, that person was not moved into isolation. No one on the floor was identified as a close contact, despite sharing a bathroom, or contacted that there was someone in the vicinity with COVID-19. The student also asked to be moved into isolation but this request was not granted. At the time, there were only 15 students in isolation, far fewer than 567’s capacity.
This board questions why the person who had tested positive was not moved into the isolation dorm and why those on the floor were not contacted that someone had tested positive.
With the living style, those on that floor could be sharing a bathroom with the person and be unaware of it. This is especially concerning because there are areas in which it would be hard to keep a mask on, such as the showers. The CDC recommends waiting as long as possible (ideally hours) before entering a space in which someone with COVID-19 has been as well as increasing ventilation. This is very difficult to do with community bathrooms. CDC recommendations for proper ventilation are hard to control for the entire building, and solutions such as opening the windows aren’t recommended in the colder weather.
The board reached out to BCTP to ask why a student might be asked to isolate in place when they share a bathroom with many other students and the COVID-19 dashboard shows that there is plenty of room in 567. Hart wrote back in an email, “Our protocols currently allow for students who are asymptomatic and living in a single to stay in the comfort of their room during isolation … Typically, when a student has a communal bathroom setting, we will do our best to utilize on campus isolation as long as it is available.” Given this protocol, the board is unsure as to why this student wasn’t moved to 567. This board asks that the BCTP either give students solutions as to how to handle community style living when living on the same floor as someone with COVID-19 or remove that student (per their wishes) into isolation.
This board appreciates all that Brandeis has been doing to keep students safe with the surge of Omicron. However, we also ask that Brandeis take into consideration students’ concerns about keeping themselves and others safe.