Isolation, self-quarantine plan poses wellness quandaries

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In an attempt to reduce the spread of COVID-19 at Vassar, the College is placing students who either test positive on campus, do not have negative test results when they arrive on campus, or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive on campus in isolation. Some students have complained about food delivery, the logistics of moving into isolation and communication with Health Service. As of August 28, 11 students have been placed in isolation, and 33 have been placed in self-quarantine.

In accordance with New York State Department of Health guidelines, the College has defined the following terms as follows:

  • Mandatory Isolation: Student has tested positive for COVID-19 or is displaying COVID-19 symptoms (e.g. fever of 100℉ or higher, cough, loss of taste or smell, etc.) and does not have a positive or negative test result
  • Self-Quarantine (SQ): Student has been in close contact (within six feet, for over 15 minutes) with someone who is positive, whether or not they display symptoms of COVID-19
  • Temporary Resident: Student has arrived on campus without a negative COVID-19 test result

Temporary housing is provided for any student who falls into one of the three aforementioned categories. As of August 27, 75 beds on campus and approximately 60 beds in the Poughkeepsie Hampton Inn have been set aside for isolation and SQ.For students who are required to isolate, there are designated spaces in the Alumnae House and Dean of Faculty House, both of which are located along the perimeter of campus. Each student receives their own room and bathroom.

Those who are required to SQ can be placed in any of the following locations: Residential Quad annex spaces, Terrace Apartments, Brewers Lane Townhouses, South Commons units or the Hampton Inn. Each of these spaces has a ratio of bedrooms to bathrooms of between 3:1 and 6:1. While the NYS Department of Health requires SQ shelters to have separate bathrooms for each quarantined individual, the Dutchess County Behavioral and Community Health approved the use of spaces with shared bathrooms with the acknowledgement that if a student shows symptoms or tests positive for the novel coronavirus, they are required to extend their quarantine for at least another 14 days.

All temporary residents are placed in a reserved room at the Hampton Inn.

All of the isolation, SQ and temporary resident rooms are demarcated by restricted access signs as per NYS Department of Health guidelines.

Once students are placed in the appropriate housing, they should receive an email from the Administrator on Call (AOC) or their House Advisor (HA) with information regarding the procedures they must follow as an individual who is isolated, self-quarantined or classified as a temporary resident. 

Some students have experienced issues with the transition between normal and isolation housing. Lucy Kuhn ’22 arrived on campus on August 15 and received a positive test result on August 16. She noted that the transition from her TH to isolation in the Alumnae House was not smooth, citing a delay between receiving her positive test results and being moved to the Alumnae House. Westchester Medical Center called her at around 12:30 in the afternoon on August 16 and informed her that she had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Student services would contact her about entering isolation. An hour later she still had not received a call.

Kuhn’s roommates then contacted the AOC. She moved into her isolation room at the Alumnae House at around 5:30 p.m. Before this time she was unable to leave her room in her TH, and therefore did not receive any food. Similarly, Sammy Solomon ’23, who is in SQ due to close contact with someone who tested positive, said that the process of moving into isolation was “disjointed,” citing the large time-lapse between when he was told he would be moving into isolation and when he was told where to isolate. 

The college has instituted many provisions to fulfill health care needs. On a daily basis, Vassar Health Service officials monitor all students’ temperature and symptoms and provide medical guidance if necessary. Health Service also has medications available, most of which are paid for under the required Student Health Fee. The Rite Aid on 238 Hooker Avenue delivers the medications to campus. Students are also put in contact with Residential Life officials if they require further assistance. Both Health Service and the Office of Residential Life assistance is delivered either via Zoom or in person. Additionally, the Dutchess County Department of Behavioral and Community Health checks in daily via text with  people who have tested positive.

Isolated and SQ students are tested by Health Service and can access their results through the Medicat Patient Portal. Temporary resident students receive a test through Westchester Medical Center (WMC) and can view their results on the Healow app or the WMC webportal.

Despite these plans, communication between students in isolation and Vassar’s Health Service has been inconsistent. Kuhn described Health Service as helpful, stating that they checked in every day to ensure that she was healthy and had not developed additional symptoms. However, she does not know when and if she will need to get tested again moving forward, as she did not receive an additional test while in isolation or before leaving isolation. Massimo Tarridas ’22 complained that communication with Health Service was slightly difficult at times. Solomon has struggled to gain clarity about if or when he will be able to receive a COVID-19 test while in isolation, and he struggled to get the results of his antibody test. 

During isolation and quarantine, students also fill out daily food forms that are sent to Vassar Dining Services. They are required to fill out a form the day before for the food they want for the next day. Their food is then delivered to a drop box near their room. 

Students have complained about the quality of these food deliveries. Kuhn shared that when she first began her 10-day isolation period, she received insufficient food: On her first full day in isolation she only received a single delivery in the morning with only a sunbutter sandwich, turkey sandwich, some fruit, cookies, and water. However, once she and her parents contacted Dean Luis Inoa, adjustments were made to the food plan. On day four, she began receiving multiple drop-offs a day, as well as hot and re-heatable food. Kuhn said “it was definitely a process, I had to talk to a lot of people, which was difficult while being in isolation.” 

Tarridas faced similar difficulties on the date that he was put into isolation. He was informed that he would be required to quarantine before eating breakfast, and then had no way of getting food until the college gave him a voucher for local restaurant Bacio’s at 7 p.m. Thankfully, the problem was mostly solved afterwards: “For a few days after that I was lacking a bit of food, but that was due to a miscommunication and misunderstanding on my behalf where I thought there was a certain limit to what we could order,” he shared.

Food delivery is contingent on filling out a form by a certain time of day. However, Solomon noted that the cut-off time fluctuates. As a result, when he did not fill out the form on time, he did not receive breakfast the following day. He expressed his frustration: “I feel as though I should be getting at least a basic breakfast everyday regardless.” 

In response to concerns about the meal plan, the College has worked closely with Bon Appétit to revise the system to better accommodate isolated and quarantined students. The new plan went into effect August 21. On the food form, students can now indicate any dietary restrictions and request specific portions of food. Moreover, students now have the capacity to order dinner from either Gordon Commons, GrubHub, Twisted Soul or Bacio’s. The College has created a new Vassar account to which these orders are charged, and those who paid with their own money will be reimbursed if they send receipts to Inoa.

Beyond health care and nutritional needs, the College is also working to promote psychological wellness among isolated and quarantined students. 

Students who have been in isolation for at least 10 days or whose symptoms have dissipated are eligible to go to the Vassar Farm or track for fresh air and exercise. Self-quarantined students have to wait 14 days to do so. They can reach out to the AOC to arrange transportation to these outdoor locations.

President Elizabeth Bradley noted, “Being isolated is not easy, which is why we created this opportunity for these students to at least go outside near their rooms for fresh air and some exercise.”

To further promote the mental wellness of students, the Vassar Counseling Service is offering two weekly conversation hours for the next few weeks to assist individuals navigating quarantine and isolation. There will be a Quarantine Conversation Hour, which a Vassar counselor will attend along with quarantined and isolated students, and a Student Conversation Hour, which will be hosted by counselling staff members Lydia Kernan and Sophia Scholl and is open to any all Vassar students who are in need of support. More information can be found on the Counseling Service website.

Currently, Inoa and Student Living and Wellness are working to further expand these mental support efforts. They are working to arrange check-ins via Zoom with Bradley and other administration and faculty members or even other students.

Inoa emphasized the significance of these efforts: “There is something about a communal effort in making sure that the students in those spaces know that people are thinking about them.” 

If isolated students have any additional concerns, they are put in contact with the Director of Case Management Erika Pappas. SQ students and temporary residents are directed to the AOC or their HA.

Although no one is monitoring those who are in isolation or SQ, there are still consequences for those who display egregious behavior that pose a risk to themselves and others. The classification of “egregious behavior” is up to the discretion of the Threat Assessment Team, which consists of Inoa and Director of Safety and Security Arlene Sabo in consultation with others as needed.

Those who are deemed to be in violation of isolation or SQ guidelines will be asked to leave campus.

While both students and administrators continue to adjust to campus life during the pandemic, more questions and concerns will inevitably arise.

“It’s like we’re trying to iron our clothes while we are still wearing them…There will be wrinkles,” Inoa said.

Despite these unavoidable bumps in the road, the College is working to continuously readjust their policies to better support isolated and self-quarantined students. Administrators understand that this requires more transparency on their end. 

“We [administration] have to be clear…We have to do our own work to ensure students know their responsibilities,” said Inoa. “Thankfully, by and large, students have been very patient and graceful with us.” 

However, Inoa also calls upon students to try and familiarize themselves with the isolation and SQ policies so that they are not overwhelmed if they find themselves in either situation. He stated, “Ideally, students would have taken the time to look at all of this stuff before it even happens. Assume that it will and then read the information about what that process looks like and familiarize yourself as much as possible with it, because there is just a lot.” 

Despite some complaints, many in isolation do have positive feedback about the administration’s handling of quarantined students. “I also saw a lot of complaining online coming from people who either were not in quarantine or have even already graduated, and honestly I think that the College has been very accommodating,” said Tarridas. “Of course the food should be of a high standard, given that we are students of the College, but I am responding this way because I saw talk of suing, which I hope was in jest.” Similarly, Kuhn stated, “I definitely don’t have any anger, I think the school handled it well, and when issues came up they took time to figure it out. Dean Luis called me and the administration helped to figure everything out.” 

Correction: This article was originally accompanied for a photograph of a residence that was not being used for self-quarantine.

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