COVID-19 cases on college campuses have been on the rise in the beginning weeks of the spring semester. Despite the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant, Muhlenberg College opened its campus, confident in the ability to hold in-person classes and keep students, faculty and staff safe from the threats of the virus.
“It is clear that [the] spread [of the omicron variant] is much more frequent and much less threatening in a vaccinated community,” says Allison Williams, dean of students. Therefore, unlike a year ago, the number of cases is no longer the measure of health and safety in a vaccinated community. Instead, public health emergency is measured by severe sickness and hospitalization… Our students are much sicker right now with things like the GI virus, strep throat, bronchitis and the traditional flu.” Although there is no public data to corroborate the numbers of Williams’ claim.
The College’s COVID-19 dashboard currently reports a significant decrease in cases from the week ending Jan. 30 (61 cases) and the week ending Feb. 6 (26 cases). These numbers are representative of reported cases. Per the Muhlenberg College COVID-19 Policy, all students are required to notify the College of all positive COVID-19 tests – but that does not necessarily mean that they do. In response to this recent reported decrease, health services attributes the College’s prevention strategies to the lowered transmission rate on campus.
“Some of our most critical mitigation measures have been our mask use, especially with recommendations of the more effective KN95 masks and our COVID vaccination rate,” says Brynnmarie Dorsey, executive director of health and counseling services. “As of Feb. 6, 92.6% of our students had received the COVID-19 booster vaccine.”
“Students who are identified as needing to go in isolation are contacted by a member of the health center staff for case investigation and to provide instructions for isolation,” says Williams. Following a positive test, students must complete a contract tracing form so that close contacts of exposure can be notified to quarantine as soon as possible.
The COVID-19 policy states, “Students who are required to quarantine or isolate during the semester and who live within 300 miles must go home for this period of time.” Students who live outside of this 300 mile radius are permitted to move to the on-campus isolation housing. For students who are concerned about their identified isolation location (home or on campus), Williams adds that “students are in touch with one of [the College’s] two quarantine coordinators who will help to determine what is best and when.”
Overall, I am exceptionally disappointed with the way that my situation was handled by the College.Anonymous student
‘Berg students have been eager to share their recent COVID-19 experiences in an effort to keep the community informed about the College’s isolation and quarantine process.
A member of the class of ‘23 tested positive for COVID on Jan. 26. They are from the Lehigh Valley; however, they felt that, because they live with two high-risk people, they should be eligible to stay in the on-campus isolation housing.
“I told the school that I could not go home because of those circumstances and they told me I could pay $75/night and stay in the hotel they had contracted with or find an alternative housing option,” the anonymous student said. Students who have been put up in hotels have received snack bags, but have to order, pay and have their own food delivered, creating additional costs to the hotel rate per night.
“I believed that I had ‘extraordinary circumstances’ because returning to my home was not possible.” The student eventually found a relative who was able to vacate their home for them to stay in. With COVID symptoms, they drove two hours to isolate alone for six days. Health and counseling services did not remain in contact with them during that time.
“Overall, I am exceptionally disappointed with the way that my situation was handled by the College,” they said. “I felt that my family’s personal safety was jeopardized and felt very offended when I was told that I ‘had time to plan what I would do if I got COVID.’”
Naama Forman ‘23 also tested positive and was permitted to quarantine in the 22nd St. apartments because she lives outside the 300-mile radius. Forman explained that she was given as much time as she needed to pack her belongings and campus safety sent a car for her when she was ready to move to isolation housing.
“The [22nd St.] apartment was clean and comfortable and I was even allowed to switch rooms when the one I was originally assigned was too loud due to a generator right outside my window,” Forman said.
Forman also received a roommate while in isolation. “A friend of mine tested positive and we requested to live with each other. This enhanced my experience a lot and it was very nice not being alone during this difficult time,” she said.
The health center had a nurse call and check in with Forman every day. “It meant a lot to know that there was someone checking in on me and making sure my symptoms weren’t so bad and that I was overall improving,” Forman commented.
It meant a lot to know that there was someone checking in on me and making sure my symptoms weren’t so bad and that I was overall improving.Naama Forman ‘23
Meals were delivered to her apartment accordingly. “At 12:00 PM and 5:00 PM everyday, lunch and dinner were dropped off at our door,” Forman explained. “Breakfast was given with dinner. We requested what we wanted from the Wood Dining Commons menu the day before and usually got what we requested.”
In terms of academics, Forman felt that, for the most part, professors were accommodating about missing class.
“Most of my professors have been accommodating, however, some of the accommodations still felt like I was getting unfair treatment because I had to miss class,” Forman said. “I understand that finding ways for students to participate in hands-on classes is hard but we are in a pandemic, and classrooms and curriculums should be set up to have Zoom classes or hands-on replacements that are equal to the class or activity itself.”
Daniella Medvedovski ‘24 shared similar sentiments about her experience with classes and on-campus isolation housing.
“I wish the College required professors to provide options for virtual engagement such as Zooming into lectures or recording them for isolated students to watch on their own time,” Medvedovski said.
On her sixth day after testing positive, Medvedovski also received a roommate in her 22nd St. apartment without being warned ahead of time.
“To insert another student into a space where I had been living with no prior warning felt like a huge invasion of privacy,” Medvedovski said. “After numerous students voiced their concerns to the dean of students office and the health center, they apologized and said they would mend the system in the future and communicate with students before giving them roommates.”
The potential for an isolation roommate depends on how full isolation housing is. “If you are asymptomatic, you will not be placed with a roommate because there is always a chance your results were a false positive and we would not want to put a symptomatic roommate in that could cause the other student to become symptomatic,” Williams clarified. “Again, our vaccination status is our greatest protection.”
In summary: the experiences of students quarantined off campus versus on campus vary greatly in quality, with only the students on campus receiving consistent communication and resources. Reflecting on her time in off campus quarantine, the anonymous student stated that they “felt excluded… No one ever called to check in on how I was doing or to see if I was alive.”