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Students, staff share insights on widespread testing and potential COVID-19 outbreaks

Students in Balz-Dobie and healthcare personnel explain how to be prepared for impacts of virus control measures

<p>Reaching successful infection control is heavily dependent on the compliance of students with COVID-19 mitigation procedures.</p>

Reaching successful infection control is heavily dependent on the compliance of students with COVID-19 mitigation procedures.

As the University strives to closely monitor COVID-19 cases and accordingly modify plans for controlling the spread, first years living in dorms are being tasked with adapting to protocols which include — but are not limited to — widespread testing, quarantine and isolation. After five Balz-Dobie residents tested positive for COVID-19 and SARS-Cov-2 was detected in the dorm’s wastewater, the dorm underwent testing for COVID-19. According to some residents of the dorm, the process for mandatory testing went smoothly, and as testing and relocation of students will likely continue in the coming weeks, both students and University staff provide advice to help students better acclimate to this new normal.

Eirian Crocker, first-year student and Balz-Dobie resident, said that she and her fellow hallmates were initially concerned about what the testing would encompass, but were pleasantly surprised by the hospitality of the testing staff and simplicity of the procedure.

“It started feeling like ‘The Hunger Games’ because we had no idea what was going on … or what floor [the healthcare workers] were on,” Crocker said. “[But] they were really, really nice. When they got to your door they'd knock on it, and they were all in PPE, and they explained what they were going to do. And it was just the nasal swab, and it was over in 10 seconds.”

Lisa Colosi-Peterson, associate professor of engineering systems and environment, says that wastewater from dorms is tested by auto-sampler robots positioned near manholes, which take 30 milliliter samples every 15 minutes and tests those samples every 24 hours. The samplers have the exclusive intention of detecting the presence of SARS-Cov-2 in order to identify a potential outbreak which would demand further investigation. 

“The wastewater tells us where we should shine the light and do more testing,” Colosi-Peterson said. 

Colosi-Peterson also emphasizes that wastewater testing is only an initial step in the University’s efforts to curb the spread of the virus. According to an Oct. 8 Return to Grounds update, the University will be conducting dorm-wide testing for all students living on Grounds in the next few weeks. However, reaching successful infection control is heavily dependent on the compliance of students with procedures. These procedures include informing staff about contact, promptly testing for the virus and agreeing to quarantine or isolate if requested.

“The system only works if everyone cooperates,” Colosi-Peterson said. “We want to create a positive culture, with everyone aware and ready, but not freaked out. We want to … work the system so that everyone stays as safe as possible with as minimal disruption to everyone's daily routines.”

Jessica Simmons, director of medical services at Student Health and Wellness, said that her first recommendation for compliance is for students to actively read emails and answer phone calls in order to receive important communications from University departments. She also recommends being familiar with HealthyHoos, which is the confidential online patient portal giving students around the clock access to their health information. Student Health and Wellness has also recently published a Residence Hall Testing Advice Document which lists more information about testing and quarantine and advises students on how to be best prepared.

“Please know that if you are asked to isolate or quarantine, you will be provided a Care Team consisting of staff from [the Department of Student Health and Wellness, the Office of the Dean of Students and the health department], who can help you with medical questions and also the logistics of isolation and quarantine,” Simmons said in an email to The Cavalier Daily.

Upon being tested for the virus, Crocker said the students were asked to quarantine in their dorm rooms as they waited for test results, which were back by the end of next day and revealed 10 additional positive cases. If test results and contact tracing deemed that quarantining was necessary, the timing could fluctuate based on the point of contact with the student that tested positive. 

“I had contact with the person who tested positive multiple days before we found out they were positive, so my quarantine time was shortened to a little over a week,” Crocker said.

On the other hand, Jack Goodman, first-year College student and Balz-Dobie resident, explains that he was required to quarantine for the full 14 days due to difficulty pinpointing the last day of contact with a student who tested positive. This is because COVID-19 can take up to 14 days to show bodily symptoms. Thus, by quarantining during this time period, students can monitor themselves and be ready to take further steps to limit spread if they do indeed experience symptoms.

Colosi-Peterson advises students to be prepared for quarantine or isolation by prioritizing packing belongings such as medications, snacks and chargers. By collecting important belongings and running errands ahead of time, students can limit having to leave their living space during shelter-in-place or quarantine and can thus limit the potential of inadvertently infecting others. She also strongly encourages first years to prioritize their physical and mental health by proactively informing faculty if they would like any assistance, such as assignment deadline extensions, as a result of the changing circumstances.

Crocker, who spent her recent quarantine experience at the Hampton Inn, acknowledged that the nature of quarantining alone made it more challenging to form a routine around exercising, eating and staying on top of school assignments, but was able to find creative practices to cope with the monotony.

“Separate the space that you're working on homework, the space where you eat and the space where you sleep,” Crocker said.

Goodman felt similarly and emphasized the need for organization during the change of normal routine.

“Just make sure to stay vigilant and keep a schedule going because you don't want to miss certain deadlines or tests that you were thinking of,” Goodman said.

The Student Health and Wellness staff further offer tips for students to cope with the physical and mental health toll which new virus restrictions are taking. Nicole Ruzek, director of counseling and psychological services, stated that self care is of utmost importance.

“This means maintaining a consistent routine that includes a healthy diet, exercise, sleep, time away from screens and staying connected to others,” Ruzek said in an email to The Cavalier Daily.

Ruzek further emphasizes the importance of striving to sustain personal interaction despite the physical spacing instituted by social distancing. 

“We do best in relationships and often struggle when we feel alone,” Ruzek said. “During this time we need to make sure we are not avoiding people entirely. Although physical distancing has created some barriers to connection, it has also inspired new and creative approaches to maintaining and forming relationships.”