Brandeis has had three successful and safe semesters amid the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, Brandeis’ policies have been designed to keep students safe. With new updates to policies for the spring semester, we are worried that this run will come to an end.
Omicron is already impacting Brandeis at levels unheard of. This week alone, 21 students and 10 staff have tested positive—and the week isn’t even over yet. Last semester, we averaged fewer than 10 cases a week; however, for the entirety of winter break, we had double digits cases. That’s more than normal, with a significantly reduced population on campus. Given these numbers, we have to assume that COVID-19 is a larger concern this semester, but many of Brandeis’ policies do not reflect this increased dire.
Our biggest concern centers around isolation. In previous semesters, students who tested positive for COVID-19 were required to isolate in special, COVID-only housing. This semester, though, students may have to isolate themselves in their own dorm rooms. “Isolation and quarantine protocols for COVID-19-positive and close-contact students in residence halls will be determined on a case-by-case basis, following clinical, CDC and Massachusetts Department of Public Health guidance,” reads a Jan. 26 update from Carol A. Fierke, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Stew Uretsky, Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration and Raymond Lu-Ming Ou, Vice President for Student Affairs.
This raises concerns for the editorial board, especially in the cases of traditional style housing. Many dormitories on campus have doubles and triples, with multiple people in a bedroom. It is impossible to isolate from someone COVID-19-positive in such close quarters. Additionally, these bathrooms are communal. While someone living in Village or Skyline might have a single and be able to isolate, they will still have to use public spaces to maintain personal hygiene. Tasks like brushing teeth and showering cannot be completed with masks. We understand that this policy may be due to limited isolation space, but this seems like a bad idea. Even in quads like Ziv or Ridgewood, where individuals have their own bedroom, this has potential to create an incredibly lonely experience, as the isolated individual will be able to hear their roommates talking in the common room, unable to join the conversation.
Also concerning is the lack of quarantine policy after moving onto campus. Though we recognize that a true quarantine might not be necessary, we are very concerned about attending in-person classes on Feb. 1. Students can move in as late as Jan. 31, meaning they can come to class the day after flying on a plane. Of course, testing is required as the individuals return to campus, but COVID-19 symptoms show up between two to 14 days after contact. A student that tests negative on the day of travel can be contagious the very next day, without catching it for 96 hours (as that is the current testing limit). The Brandeis Hoot Editorial Board would feel much safer with an additional week of virtual classes in order to prevent a situation like that from occurring.
The worry does not end here. In theory, quarantined individuals cannot go anywhere on campus, but that is not the reality. Meals can be picked up in Upper Usdan, though potentially sick individuals are supposed to use the area outside of Upper, instead of going directly into the building. This is still a narrow space where students are cramming in, making it impossible to social distance. Additionally, they can get to Upper—and anywhere else, really—using the BranVan. Passports are not checked on the van—a super condensed space, where students often sit shoulder to shoulder. One of our editors watched someone take it so they could specifically go to the quarantine testing site.
Which is a whole other problem: testing for COVID-19 when you are potentially contagious. Orange passports, the color of travel quarantined individuals, grant access to the standard testing sites, which should not be used by those who are deemed close contacts. Gray passports, meant for those in quarantine or isolation, only grants access to the Brandei health Center by appointment. Neither of these describe the conditions for those in quarantine, causing confusion. Close contacts testing at the regular testing site, puts testing site workers, and anyone else testing at that time, at risk.
The Hoot Editorial Board is terrified of the safety concerns in place for this semester. Spring 2022 is the last semester before graduation for many of our board members. We want to be able to celebrate this semester together, in person, all the way through May. But, we think that cannot be done without some major updates to the school policy. Please, Brandeis administration, consider revising some policies.