The University administration recently shared more insight into the reasoning behind their current COVID-19 policies with the Justice. These insights follow an article published on Sept. 20 featuring various student perspectives about the University’s switch from “yellow” to “green” COVID-19 Passport status in early September. 

In the article, students had expressed mixed feelings about the change and the policies as a whole, with some reporting that they feel safer on campus than others. Generally, students noticed little to no change in their daily lives as a result of the status shift. They were happy with administration’s efforts to make the University community aware of constant updates to their protocols but were also disappointed in the lack of public COVID-19 numbers. 

Lashaun Lockhart, the administrative director of the Golding Health Center, and Madison Dirats, the lead administrator of the Brandeis Contact Tracing Program, spoke with the Justice on Oct. 7. Lockhart clarified that the differences between the yellow and green COVID-19 statuses are very subtle, and this is likely the reason that students have not felt that the change has significantly impacted their lives. She explained that the largest difference between the two statuses can be found in the classroom, as the green status allows professors to decide whether they want to make masking optional in their class, while the previous yellow status required masking in all class settings. In other locations, masking policies have largely stayed the same; previously mask-optional locations continue to be that way, and masking is still required in designated buildings, such as the Health Center. Lockhart emphasized that the administration still prioritizes student comfort in making the status shift, sharing that “any student has the freedom to wear a mask if they choose to do so.”

While the status shift has not been largely noticed among students, the lack of student access to COVID-19 numbers certainly has been. During the 2021-22 academic year, the University’s COVID-19 Dashboard closely tracked and posted detailed COVID-19 data on a regular basis, including the exact number of cases on campus. This year, however, the University decided to retire the use of the dashboard. Instead of reporting exact COVID-19 data during the 2022-23 academic year, the administration has chosen to reflect the University community’s status through the color-coded system. 

While Lockhart acknowledged that this new system of reporting may seem less comprehensive, she ultimately believes that it will better represent the community’s COVID-19 status. She shared that data about COVID-19 numbers is often not accurate, as it is easy to make errors in obtaining a highly specific value. “Rather than searching for the exact numbers, that status, yellow, green, orange, red, is an exact reflection of how prevalent COVID-19 is in and around our community,” Lockhart explained. The numbers that inform the University’s color status are measured by the Waltham Board of Health. Dirats meets regularly with this board to report the University’s COVID-19 numbers to the general Waltham community. 

The administration also addressed student and faculty concerns about Brandeis’ lack of weekly testing during the 2022-23 academic year, specifically acknowledging the fear that they are missing asymptomatic positive cases. 

Dirats responded to this caveat by sharing that most of the positive cases produced by the current strain are not asymptomatic. She explained that many cases of demonstrated COVID-19 symptoms are aligning with reported COVID-19 exposures, so the current offering of testing to both individuals who have symptoms and those who have been exposed to COVID-19 will effectively account for almost all students who are at risk. “We still are doing the PCR testing, so in the event that we had people who had an exposure and are not showing symptoms, we are going to catch them,” Dirats added. 

Given the world’s experiences with previous COVID-19 strains, Dirats understands why students and faculty may be fearful of decreased access to testing in the community. She shared, “I have had COVID-19 and not had any symptoms, so it was also one of my first thoughts, but in terms of missing asymptomatic positives, I don’t think we’re missing any.” Dirats is even more confident in this assertion based on the fact that many members of the community are taking their own rapid tests when they are exposed to COVID-19 or when they exhibit symptoms. 

Students and staff have also reported the worry that the administration’s reliance on self-reporting to track COVID-19 cases may not accurately account for the scale of the pandemic on campus. Dirats does not share their concerns, however, as she feels that most members of the Brandeis community tend to report positive cases. She shared, “for the most part, I think I can safely say Brandeis students have done a great job of reporting it because they want to know what the next step is, ‘what do I do?’” 

One of the few common reasons Dirats has found that students often choose not to report is that they are afraid of missing classes, but the administration is working to combat this. They have had a conversation with faculty about working with students when they are sick and being flexible with attendance and extension policies. 

The University administration has also continued to work actively with the greater Waltham and Massachusetts communities to ensure that campus COVID-19 policies create the safest possible environment for all. Lockhart, along with Dr. Colleen Collins, the medical director of the Health Center, is a part of a Boston Consortium of doctors, nurses, and administrators based in and around Massachusetts who come together biweekly to share their communities’ COVID-19 protocols and share the most effective strategies for developing and updating policies based on community needs. “We are able to say, ‘how did you guys manage that?’ So that has been really useful to the Brandeis community to be on that consortium,” Lockhart said. 

In addition to the consortium, Dirats meets regularly with the Waltham Board of Health to share COVID-19 data and report on the state of COVID-19 at Brandeis. “With every meeting, we get a thumbs up that we are doing a good job to keep our community safe,” Dirats added. 

The administrators reported that they are extremely grateful for student and faculty feedback about their policies. Lockhart was glad to learn that students found practices like administration’s emails about policy updates to be beneficial, saying, “the fact that it’s clear, and it’s hitting home, and it’s useful to you all is really helpful to us.”