As COVID-19 cases rise, students and faculty need to take action
As most students are more than aware of at this point, we are currently experiencing unprecedented levels of COVID-19 cases within our student body. As of press time, Brandeis’ 7-day positivity rate is 2.34%, nearly two and a half times as high as the reported rate for Massachusetts higher education institutions and slightly higher than the overall state positivity rate. The recent spike in cases that has led to the tightening of precautionary guidelines by the administration has come as a disappointing surprise to many of us. We have spent the majority of the past semester-and-a-half enjoying a relatively normal college experience by pre-pandemic standards, thanks to decreased pandemic-related restrictions and a relatively low risk of being exposed to COVID-19 on campus. For many of us, this has made it especially difficult to adjust to the level of caution that must be taken in the midst of the sharp uptick in the positive case rate that is happening now within our community and makes it all the more frustrating when being cautious leads to missing out on the fun and important parts of our everyday lives.
However, this should not mean that we disregard the importance of keeping ourselves and others safe. Protecting our community during a pandemic means prioritizing safety and using our best judgment to make choices that help reduce our risk of being exposed to or exposing others to COVID-19. Prioritizing safety is especially important for those who have experienced a potential exposure from a close contact or who are experiencing symptoms. Of course, we should all be following University guidelines and adhering to instructions provided by the Brandeis Community Tracing Program (BCTP) and the Health Center if placed in quarantine or isolation — this is the least we can do to slow the spread and respect our fellow community members. But the apparent delays and communication failures of the BCTP and Health Center in notifying students when they are identified as a close contact have made it clear that simply following instructions is not enough.
This editorial board is aware of a number of concerning reports of students who have been listed as close contacts and who have not been contacted by the BCTP for up to two days, or at all. Zoe Popovic ’23 was recently exposed to COVID-19 and informed by the positive student immediately after, at which point Popovic began quarantining in their room. This student included Popovic in the list of close contacts they provided to BCTP. Yet Popovic, despite emailing the BCTP the next day, did not receive any communication from the University telling them to quarantine, notifying them of their status as a close contact, or providing them any quarantine instructions for over 48 hours. While Popovic was fortunate to have been informed directly by the student who exposed them and made the wise decision to continue quarantining despite not being officially told to do so, it is worrisome to hear from them and other students about how long it is taking for the BCTP to contact people. Further, some students have not been contacted at all, despite being listed as close contacts.
These reports demonstrate just how vital it is for students to use our own best judgment and respect our communal responsibility to protect each other, rather than relying entirely on the University to provide us with instructions to minimize risk. Although making these choices may be challenging at times, it is necessary that we do everything we can to keep our community safe, slow the spread of COVID-19, and hopefully be able to get past this difficult period as soon as possible.
Considering the number of students testing positive for COVID-19 and the delays the BCTP is experiencing in contact tracing students who meet the close-contact criteria, this board asks faculty to be mindful of the way they conduct their classes in the next couple of weeks. While students take it upon themselves to self-quarantine while waiting for a call from the BCTP, faculty should provide support in the form of remote class options, class recordings, and excused absences. Needless to say, this same support should be extended to students who are officially in quarantine or isolation, as well as students suffering from illnesses unrelated to COVID.
While it seems intuitive that professors would have a robust system for students who are unable to attend classes in person at this point in the pandemic, members of this board struggle to obtain appropriate support from faculty. Some professors do not provide a remote option for their in-person classes, leaving students in isolation or quarantine unable to participate in real-time. While this board understands that teaching a hybrid class can be demanding and technologically challenging, the University has made resources available to faculty to ease these difficulties. Having a remote, synchronous option for in-person classes can make all the difference in a student’s learning and overall wellbeing, especially considering that social interaction, even in a classroom setting, is crucial for students in quarantine and isolation.
In other cases, some members of this board have experienced professors refusing to record their classes, or if they do record them, they do not make the recordings accessible to all students. This is not only detrimental to students in isolation or quarantine, but also to those who are unable to attend class because of other illnesses, and those who may want to revisit the lecture at a later time. Other professors will not accommodate students who do not have the proper documentation from the BCTP stating that they are in quarantine or isolation. While this was a reasonable request when cases were low on campus, it does not take into account the current delays the BCTP is experiencing. Some community members have been contacted two days after they were listed as a close contact by the person who tested positive for COVID-19 and the delays deter students from self-quarantining to avoid absences, which places other students in the class at risk of infection.
This board would like to remind faculty members that, while the student body has been fortunate to have largely avoided severely symptomatic cases of COVID-19 so far, students in isolation might still experience discomfort and flu-like symptoms that interfere with their ability to complete assignments. Social isolation also results in detrimental mental health effects that might impact a student’s academic performance. This is particularly important to note considering that many students placed in quarantine go on to test positive and are required to isolate for even more time, as explained in a March 25 email to the Brandeis community from Carol Fierke, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs; Stew Uretsky, executive vice president for finance and administration; and Raymond Ou, vice president of student affairs. As we prepare for the final weeks of the semester, supporting students in quarantine/isolation — in whatever way they may need — will be of utmost importance.