The university saw a surge in close contact numbers during the week of March 6, this surge came the week after the university announced the relaxing of its masking policy on campus. Shelby Harris, Assistant Vice President for Student Engagement and Campus Life and Monique Pillow Gnanaratnam, Dean of Students, wrote to students regarding the rise in close contact numbers.
“We have an unusually high number of community members who have recently been identified as close contacts and are now required to quarantine. We are writing today to remind you that at Brandeis, those identified as COVID-19 close contacts must quarantine, without exception,” Harris and Pillow Gnanaratnam wrote to students.
The university then announced beginning on March 17, students would have to return to getting tested twice a week. This update comes exactly two weeks after the university announced vaccinated students could get tested once a week. In an email sent by Andrea Dine, Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs, she wrote, “we are adjusting our policies to meet our community’s needs in light of the data.”
According to Dine, a majority of cases are coming from large social gatherings off-campus, not from labs or classes. The increased positivity rate of community members is also coming from the student population, not from faculty and staff numbers which remain low. “It is our hope that increased testing will mitigate the current rise in cases and that we will not need to further tighten COVID restrictions on campus,” wrote Dine.
On March 10, the university had 42 students in isolation and 118 students in quarantine, according to a screenshot obtained by The Brandeis Hoot from March 10 of the university’s COVID-19 dashboard. 118 students in quarantine marks the highest number of students to date in quarantine. As of March 16, 26 students were in isolation, and 62 were in quarantine.
Isolation housing is reserved for students who have tested positive on a COVID-19 test. Quarantine is reserved for students who have either been listed as a close contact to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or whose test results either come back as inconclusive from the Broad Institute, according to the university’s Quarantine and Self Isolation Protocol page.
“A close contact is someone who was within six feet of a person infected with COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes within a 24-hour period. Given the high volume of close contacts noted by cases, close contacts will be notified via email of their exposure and encouraged to contact the Brandeis Community Tracing Program (email@example.com) if symptomatic or with concerns or issues,” Harris and Pillow Gnanaratnam explained to students in the email.
Students are released from quarantine on day five if they do not have symptoms and test negative on a PCR test provided at the Health Center not at the standard testing site in the Shapiro Science Center (SSC), according to the email. Students were reminded that the exposure date is not day one but rather day zero of the quarantining period.
“This is not merely a formality. A significant percentage of recent close contacts have gone on to test positive for COVID-19,” the administrators explained.
Harris and Pillow Gnanaratnam wrote that the contact tracing team has been receiving complaints from students arguing that they do not meet the requirements of being a close contact. Students are arguing with contact tracers to be released from quarantine early in order to “accommodate their social schedules.” Another complaint Harris and Pillow Gnanaratnam have been noticing is students pressuring their peers who have tested positive to change the original information that had been given to contact tracers in order to be released from the close contact list.
“This kind of behavior is unacceptable and subject to further action as outlined in Rights & Responsibilities,” Harris and Pillow Gnanaratnam wrote in regards to the student complaints, “and more importantly, it only serves to harm our community, which, just this week, is beginning to enjoy the freedom and opportunity of loosened COVID-19 policies.”
“Every student has a responsibility to work truthfully, cooperatively and respectfully with Brandeis Community Tracing Program staff. Let’s continue to take care of ourselves and one another so that we can all enjoy this spring,” they wrote to students.
The Hoot reached out to Morgen Bergman, Assistant Provost for Strategic Initiatives, who oversees the testing sites on campus for further comment on positivity rates from close contact individuals, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.