Editor's Note: The author has chosen to use a pseudonym for this column.
I am an undergraduate student at the University, and I was perhaps the first positive COVID-19 case among undergraduates on Grounds. I would not be surprised if the University administration is unaware of my positive test, despite the multiple phone calls I had with Student Health detailing my case. Here’s the story of the University’s — and more particularly Student Health’s — ongoing incompetence.
I was originally exposed to COVID-19 on Aug. 12 at work in a sustained, close quarters situation while wearing a mask and disinfecting surfaces frequently. The person who exposed me did not report their status to my employer until Aug. 20. My workplace immediately called me and scheduled me for testing and recommended I begin isolating, all of which I did. I then called Student Health to report my status as the University COVID-19 page says to follow the advice of Student Health. This is where the problem began.
I called and told them I was exposed. They told me to set up a phone appointment for later that day. The appointment happened, and a registered nurse asked for more information about if I’m on Grounds. Notably, they didn’t ask me if I had symptoms or how I was exposed — it seems like knowing whether I was exposed by another student on Grounds would be important information. They then asked me again if I was on Grounds and followed up by saying that they were still working on fixing some of the issues in the system. That phone call ended, and I was called later that day by a Care Manager at Student Health. I called them back twice and left a voicemail both times, but heard no response until the following day when the Care Manager asked if I had received my results yet and that they would pass along a document with information about quarantine. This document simply said that Student Health had asked me to quarantine for 14 days — though I was never told this on my initial call with Student Health — and did not provide any information specific to me or any information about how to follow up.
I received a positive result from my test at work. A close friend of mine whom I had been in contact with contacted Student Health to get a test of their own, but Student Health indicated that they only gave tests to symptomatic students. Clearly this is an ineffective policy — I tested positive while being completely asymptomatic. Because Student Health had previously requested that I call them with any new information, I called again with my positive result. A different RN picked up, and while they confirmed my name and birthday, they had no idea why I called in the first place even though they were the person I was told to contact. They didn’t ask me any questions about COVID-19 even after I said I tested positive. I mentioned I was asymptomatic and had already contacted the Virginia Department of Health and my professors, but I wanted to let Student Health know too in case they needed the data. The RN asked if I needed to come in for an appointment — I said no, as I don’t have symptoms and should be in isolation. The nurse replied by wishing me luck and that they hope I stay asymptomatic and then hung up. Since that call Student Health has not followed up in any way whatsoever.
It’s ridiculous and completely unacceptable that the University would begin allowing students to move back to Charlottesville — even if they live off Grounds — without having clear and effective protocols at Student Health to give information to students who test positive or who may have been exposed. Their lack of preparedness is putting students in danger. The information given before I got my test result back was lacking and never actually told me to isolate until the next day — in the meantime, I could have been spreading the virus to others.
Once I was officially positive, Student Health did absolutely nothing. Shouldn’t they enforce stricter isolation guidelines and provide resources so I don’t accidentally infect others? If I had been going solely off of the information that I received from Student Health, I wouldn’t know whether or not I should quarantine — and if so, for how long — what to do if I start feeling sick, if I should move back home or stay in Charlottesville, if my housemates should quarantine or what counted as an exposure. I wouldn’t have even known that I had COVID-19 because they wouldn’t test me without symptoms unless I volunteered to get tested — no more than once every 60 days. My friend could also have been infected, but Student Health wouldn’t require them to be tested because they’re asymptomatic, only recently changing this policy so that the University will provide mandatory asymptomatic prevalence testing starting today. Furthermore, I was at an in-person meeting the same day I was tested, and Student Health had not asked me anything about how much contact I had with those individuals to determine if they should self-isolate as well, even though that is the most responsible measure. It’s inevitable that more University students will be exposed — Dean Allen Groves said it himself in a University-wide email — and if we rely solely on Student Health to help us, we wouldn’t make it a week before there’s an outbreak.
Student Health needs to make it easier to notify someone if you have been exposed, expand the testing process and have a clear plan of what us students should do in different exposure situations. Otherwise, the student is left to figure out what to do and who to talk to on their own, if they can even get tested at all. Dean Groves can lecture us on “doing our part” all he wants, but if the University lacks the resources to do their part, nothing the rest of us do matters.
Megan Smith is a student at the University. *The author has chosen to use a pseudonym for this column.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.