Editor’s note: Two Westhampton College students and one Richmond College student spoke about their experiences regarding COVID-19 prevention with The Collegian on the condition of anonymity.
This piece contains expletive language.
This is a developing story and will continue to be updated.
Although the number of active COVID-19 cases at the University of Richmond has remained in the single digits since the beginning of the fall semester according to UR’s COVID-19 dashboard, an increasing number of students are being affected by those active cases.
Students who have had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 must quarantine for 14 days, according to the Student Health Center’s COVID-19 Quarantine Information for UR Students. If students do not start showing symptoms or test negative for COVID-19, their quarantine ends at 14 days, according to the same Student Health Center document. If quarantined students test positive for COVID-19, however, they must remain in isolation for at least 10 more days, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
“Close contact” is defined as living with someone who has COVID-19; providing care for a person who has COVID-19; being within 6 feet of a person who has COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 15 or more minutes over a 24-hour period; or being exposed to respiratory secretions (e.g. being coughed or sneezed on, sharing a drinking glass or utensils, kissing), according to the Virginia Department of Health.
People who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 have the option of quarantining on or off-campus, said Molly Lewis, associate director of Residence Life and Housing. On-campus quarantine facilities include rooms in the Keller Hall basement and the modular trailers located behind Lora Robins Court and Marsh Hall, Lewis said.
Lewis could not recall what the capacity of the on-campus quarantine housing was, she said.
When a student tests positive for COVID-19, the Student Health Center notifies people who have been in close contact with that student, using classroom contact tracing and the student’s logging of close contacts, Lewis said. The Student Health Center also notifies the Office of Residence Life and Housing, Lewis said, so that Residence Life staff can contact students identified as close contacts to begin the transition to quarantine.
Students identified as close contacts of someone through contact tracing in classrooms and loggings of close contacts by the student who tested positive are notified by the Student Health Center, which also notifies Residence Life, Lewis said. The student who is identified as a close contact is then contacted by professional staff from Residence Life to decide where the student will be quarantining, Lewis said.
Residence Life and Student Health Center employees have to keep each other informed about students’ situations to help students transition to quarantine, Lewis said.
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“It's been about reframing priorities,” Lewis said. “This has to be top priority for us, and so being able to make [students’ transition to quarantine] as efficient as possible between ourselves and our great partners at the Student Health Center. I think keeping our lines of communication open with the Student Health Center so that we can be efficient with this, and really keep safety in the back of our minds for everybody -- that has made it doable for this semester.”
A Westhampton College upperclassman who spoke with The Collegian on the condition of anonymity was identified last week as a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19. The student said the information about quarantining on UR's website and the information provided by UR officials was unclear.
“I was hearing different things from everyone I talked to,” the student said. “I looked on the website for specific guidance about whether we could stay in our apartment or not, or just various things and there were all these conflicting guidelines so that was just very frustrating.”
Lewis said students were not allowed to quarantine nor isolate themselves in their living spaces on campus. However, the Student Health Center’s COVID-19 Quarantine Information for UR Students states that, “depending upon your living situation, you may be able to remain in place for the duration of your quarantine.”
The Westhampton College upperclassman said the amount of time given to students to make arrangements for quarantine was insufficient.
“The area coordinator [was] calling me every 10 minutes saying, ‘When are you leaving?’” she said. “And I'm like, ‘I'm sorry, I haven't been able to reach my parents, like, all day. They're working, so this is not something that I can decide within the next 10 minutes.’”
Residence Life staff strive to transition students into quarantine within 30 to 40 minutes of the students being notified for the safety of the student and the UR community, Lewis said.
The Westhampton College upperclassman said her roommate was also identified as a close contact of the person who tested positive, but the other two people who live in their on-campus housing were not. The two other housing-mates did not have to quarantine, the upperclassman said.
“If [my roommate and I] happen to be exposed, which is how the school was treating us, then our two roommates would be in the same boat as well,” she said. “The school just completely missed the mark on that. Our roommates were smart enough to quarantine and not go out.”
Another Westhampton College upperclassman who is currently quarantining off-campus said UR had a lack of concern for students whose homes were out of state. The student is living in an on-campus apartment this semester and her home address is not in Virginia, she said.
“I've dealt with this for 3.5 years now,” she said. “They just kind of fail to understand that if you don't live within driving distance of the school …. They kind of don't really give a shit about whether or not you can go home or see your parents.
“[The tone of the conversations with UR officials about quarantining] was kind of like, ‘Well, if you happen to live within driving distance, great, you get to go home to your family and [quarantine] in a great way and have someone take care of you; and if you don't, you're kind of screwed.”
The student chose to quarantine off-campus because she thought living in a modular trailer would negatively affect her mental health, she said.
“In terms of getting [schoolwork] done as well as your mental and physical health, I didn't think, and my parents didn’t think, that it was the best option,” she said.
There are designated shelter-in-place locations for students staying in the modular trailers should inclement weather arise, Lewis said.
“We prefer to use Keller [to house quarantining students], given that it is a brick and mortar building,” Lewis said. “If we were to have a tornado, it's safe to be in Keller.
“So we start with Keller, and then if we need to go into other spaces -- that's why the university did extensive contingency planning over the summer.”
The Westhampton College student whose home is out of state said the quarantine transition planning did not take into consideration her classwork on the day she was notified and the ability to contact parents.
“It was about four hours of class plus me contacting my parents who are in a different time zone who weren't even awake when I called them,” she said. “This is a very serious situation, we're not trying to take it lightly, and yet we cannot figure out our entire lifespan for 14 days in 10 minutes.”
The Westhampton College upperclassman said the number of students selected for prevalence testing was too low. She said the person with who she had been in close contact was asymptomatic and found out she had COVID-19 only when she tested positive through prevalence testing.
“If she was not selected, we would have impacted so many other people because the school just happened to get lucky and they tested her,” the Westhampton College upperclassman said.
Currently, 15% of undergraduate students, 10% of T.C. Williams School of Law students and 5% of School of Professional and Continuing Studies and Masters of Business Administration students are selected for prevalence testing every two weeks, according to UR’s COVID-19 website. Students may also be tested for COVID-19 after an evaluation by a Student Health Center physician if the student feels ill or has been exposed to COVID-19, Dr. Lynne Deane, the medical director of the Student Health Center, wrote in an Oct. 29 email to The Collegian.
The total cases displayed on the COVID-19 Dashboard is the cumulative number of positive COVID-19 cases identified through testing by UR or self-reported by students, faculty and staff, Associate Vice President of Media and Public Relations Cynthia Price wrote to The Collegian in an Oct. 30 email.
Deane wrote that students who choose to quarantine off-campus are requested, via their Student Health Center portal, to submit the results of any COVID-19 testing they may choose to undergo.
The Westhampton College upperclassman who is quarantining off-campus said she had not been told whether she had to show a negative COVID-19 test result before being allowed back on campus.
Students quarantining off-campus do not have to show a negative test result to come back to their on-campus residence or in-person classes, Deane wrote.
Nonetheless, tests are offered to students quarantining on-campus or off-campus in the Richmond area five to seven days after they are notified that they were in close contact with someone with COVID-19, Deane wrote.
A Richmond College upperclassman who is quarantining at his off-campus house was able to get a COVID-19 test at UR early this week, he said.
The Richmond College upperclassman had been taking online and in-person classes at UR this semester, he said.
“Not seeing anyone for two weeks is definitely a challenge but these are kind of things that we've experienced, to a certain degree, since March,” he said. “So definitely a challenge finding a workspace in the house.”
He said UR gave him information about testing and the precautions he should take while quarantining when he was identified as a close contact and did a good job helping him transition into quarantine.
Senior Jack Gillies, a Richmond College student, who is quarantining in one of the modular trailers, also said he thought Student Health Center employees and Residence Life employees did a good job helping him transition into quarantine.
Gillies was identified as a close contact and decided to quarantine on campus while he waited for his COVID-19 test results, he said. When his results come back, he plans to complete his quarantine period at home in D.C., he said.
Gillies had to get tested twice because the Student Health Center recommended his test be scheduled five to seven days after exposure, but Residence Life scheduled his test the day after he went into quarantine, he said.
Overall, Gillies was satisfied with UR’s handling of his situation, he said.
“They're doing about as good a job as you could hope for,” Gillies said. “Cases are rising on campus. I think that's probably to be expected. And I think in terms of, [if] you compare us to other colleges across the country -- a lot of them are much bigger, and it's a different situation obviously -- but a lot of them are really struggling to stay open.
“Overall, the school’s done a good job. They're in a very tough situation. People are going to get sick; that's kind of the nature of it.”
One of the Westhampton College students said she was concerned about how being in quarantine could influence students' ability to vote in the 2020 election since students who are in quarantine on Nov. 3, Election Day, will not be able to vote in person. Students who are in quarantine are also unable to access their mail, making them unable to mail their ballots for the election if they have not already done so.
Residence Life has not come up with a plan to help students in quarantine cast their ballots, Lewis said.
Contact news editor Jackie Llanos at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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