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Thirty students test positive for COVID, isolation housing policies change amid students’ return to campus

January 4, 2022

Jan. 3, 2022 | 9:46 p.m. 

Thirty students tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday, bringing the College’s total number of positive tests in the past seven days to 40, according to the COVID dashboard. This number includes test results from on-campus students, faculty, and staff. This rise in cases comes as students return to campus for Winter Study after many left for winter break and amid surging infections from the Omicron variant.

Students who left campus for winter break were expected to take a COVID test before returning on campus and were required to test upon arrival, according to multiple emails that Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom sent to the College community. “Now that students are returning to campus we are seeing a much larger number of positive cases than we have seen in the past,” Sandstrom wrote in an all-campus email on Jan. 3. “This is not unexpected, but we will continue to need to monitor the situation and adapt policies in response.” 

According to the COVID dashboard, the College received 826 results — 30 of which were positive — from Sunday’s tests, which brought the positivity rate to approximately 3 percent and 40 total positives. The COVID dashboard displays data on COVID tests in three ways: numbers from the past seven days for students, faculty, and staff, overall testing counts from throughout the year, and positive student test results. Until today, the testing counts and positive student test results were each undercounting positive results, while the data labeled past 7 days was accurate. The dashboard was updated this evening to be correct in all sections, Associate Director of Institutional Research James Cart ’05 wrote in an email to the Record.

In a Jan. 2 all-campus email, Associate Director for Student Athlete Services Carolyn Miles announced that the use of indoor athletic facilities is limited to in-season varsity athletes who have received at least two negative COVID tests on campus. These students may only use the facilities that they need to practice their sport and will be supervised by their coaches, Miles wrote in a follow up email to the Record. She noted that the College anticipates indoor facilities being open to all students on Jan. 7 — once most students have received two COVID tests on campus.

In an email to the Record, President Maud S. Mandel wrote that 1210 students planned to return on Jan. 2 and 3, as indicated by a Dec. 30 survey sent to students asking for their arrival times. Students who stayed on campus were required to test at least once between the end of the semester and Jan. 1, either on Dec. 27 or Dec. 29, according to a Dec. 13 email Sandstrom sent to students staying on campus for winter break.  

Several students who participate in varsity winter sports had returned to campus in late December and were initially tested with rapid tests. Students then took a PCR test to confirm their result, according to Mandel, and any positive results were included on the dashboard. The COVID dashboard documented eight positive student tests from Dec. 27, 28, and 29. 

Students that test positive after arriving on campus will move into isolation housing at Parsons House, Sewall House, Thompson House, the Williams Inn, or a few designated off-campus apartments, Mandel wrote in an email to the Record. 

In a Jan. 3 email, Senior Associate Dean of Campus Life Doug Schiazza wrote to students assigned to live in Thompson Hall during Winter Study that the dorm will now be used as isolation housing. “I ask that you begin packing up your room upon receipt of this message,” he wrote to current Thompson residents. “A team from Facilities will help students move to their new housing assignments,” he wrote.

According to Sandstrom’s Jan. 3 email, students who receive a positive test result will “likely” be placed in a double in isolation housing, sharing a room and bathroom with other students who have tested positive. Although the College previously provided those students with single rooms in isolation housing, this shift to doubles comes as the College expects more cases due to the rise of the contagious Omicron variant, Sandstrom wrote. The College is considering “a few plausible options while [it waits] to see how the initial wave of tests looks,” should isolation housing become full, Mandel wrote to the Record.

Students who are experiencing COVID symptoms at any point should not go to the testing site and instead call the Health Center, Sandstrom wrote in the Jan. 3 email, which also announced that students who test positive and are able to drive home are now “encouraged to talk to Health Center staff” about possibly isolating at home. 

Those in isolation at the College will receive a rapid test on the fifth day after their positive test. If that test is negative, students will be permitted to move back to their normal housing and attend classes, but they will be required to follow strict masking guidelines and to take their meals from the dining halls to go, according to Sandstrom’s email. If the rapid test on the fifth day returns a positive result, however, students will remain in isolation and test again 48 hours later. 

According to Sandstrom’s email, vaccinated close contacts — defined as students who spent “15 minutes or more (cumulatively within 24 hours) within six feet of a known positive, regardless of whether or not [they] were masked at the time” — should mask around others for ten days after exposure, but may remain in their rooms if they test negative.

Close contacts who are severely immunocompromised or have received a vaccination exemption will be moved into a quarantine room after exposure. If they test negative after five days of quarantine, they may return to their own room but must mask around others for five more days.

Tali Natter, Cameron Pugh, and Kitt Urdang contributed reporting.

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