The importance of communication within the University community surrounding COVID-19 cases and hybrid classes
As documented extensively in our last editorial, the University is currently experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases that is without precedent.
While this board has discussed practices for students and faculty to avoid exposing themselves, it is unquestionable that some of the University’s logistical practices, particularly centered around testing and quarantine protocols, as well as the general attitude harbored towards the outbreak that have contributed to the current predicament. In particular, this board takes issue with the University’s closure of an entire testing site on upper campus, the current policies and practices surrounding contact tracing and isolation for infected students, and the general sense of confusion and difficulty that has accompanied these changes that have hampered experiences in classes and elsewhere.
The location and lack of a second site has proven inconvenient for many students. The testing site at Shapiro is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., which is when most classes take place. Many students who primarily take classes in upper campus find it difficult to take the time to go get tested, especially at a location that is far from their classes.
This, compounded with the deliberate firing of the employees working there creates an unnecessary and inconvenient inefficiency with regard to testing, especially in light of the need for community members to get tested more frequently. This board strongly recommends that the University reopen the testing site at Mandel and rehire all its previous employees, at the least until the current wave of cases subsides.
Additionally, this board has observed some dangerous inconsistencies and difficulties with regard to how the University is going about reporting new cases, as well as communicating with those who have been potential close contacts of others who have tested positive. During the week of March 20-27, the University had reported 135 new positive cases among students, but in the following days, had not updated its numbers of those in isolation and quarantine to reflect these case numbers.
Not having accurate documentation and understanding of the numbers of those in quarantine and isolation makes understanding the full scope of the outbreak, as well as implementing any accompanying precautions and possible restrictions, nearly impossible, and the University has an obligation to correct these discrepancies.
The board reached out to Julie Jette, Assistant Vice President for Communications, about the delay in updating the COVID-19 Dashboard. Jette responded, “During the unprecedented increase in the number of positives and close contacts, the case tracing team prioritized conducting case tracing, supporting students in isolation and reaching out to close contacts. As a result the compilation of data for the dashboard was delayed, and has since been submitted. It was updated yesterday [Thursday, March 31].” However, as this board pointed out in a previous editorial , the BCTP has not been consistently contact-tracing close contacts of those who have tested positive, and has also mistakenly contact-traced students. This board calls for more consistency and accuracy in the BCTP’s tracing protocol so that students who need to quarantine or isolate are contacted as soon as possible to prevent more positive cases.
It is puzzling to this board that the University’s handling of this outbreak appears to be this shoddy. This is the fifth semester and second cumulative year of this pandemic, and logic dictates that the University would be better-prepared to handle, contain, and accurately report on a possible outbreak of cases.
Given the fact that case numbers on campus last semester were in the single digits, albeit with stricter precautions, this board recommends that the University ought to consider temporarily reinstating some restrictions, or, at the very least, consistently =updating the community with the latest and most accurate possible information concerning case numbers on campus. If the University cannot properly contact and isolate those who have been exposed, then this outbreak will get worse, not better.
The Brandeis academic value proposition is defined as a mix of vertical and horizontal connectivity because this institution prides itself on a deep commitment to undergraduate education as well as a curriculum that evolves to meet the changing needs of students.
In 2020, Brandeis constructed a plan in which the professors could provide educational assistance during the pandemic. One tenant of their philosophy included a strong engagement with compassion and support, stressing the importance of creating an equitable learning environment. This was achieved by ensuring that all students were learning and understanding throughout the course.
Also, the administration highlighted that when teaching in a pandemic it is crucial to “meet students where they are.” However, these key principles are not being met today. As many now enter quarantine and isolation, they are required to stay in their rooms for up to ten days, even during instructional time, meaning that without access to zoom they often miss out on valuable information needed for their courses.
Many late work policies require that students email their professors. However, if students are sick with COVID-19 or another illness, emailing is not a top priority, as they are often focused on their recovery. Even with a flexible deadline policy, if a student is unable to keep their professor informed, as many are unable to do during these fraught times, their grades can suffer. At this point in the semester, withdrawing from a class is not a viable option for many students, as it will result in a “W” on their transcript.
Students should not feel the need to prioritize their academics over their health, and the University should provide the necessary support to ensure that students are not put in a situation where they have to make that choice. This board urges faculty to provide a hybrid option for students during this new surge of the pandemic on campus.
Everyone should have equal access to their education without being penalized for having COVID-19.