This past Sunday, Feb. 21, the Student Government Association (SGA) held a meeting with members of the COVID-19 Task Force to address frequently asked questions regarding quarantine, testing, and contact tracing.
The meeting began with a demonstration of the contact tracing interview that students who test positive for COVID-19 go through so that the College can determine their close contacts. In the demonstration, Billy Parker `16, Assistant Secretary of the College COVID-19 Response Team Manager, asked Chair of Community Engagement Natalie Guarino about her actions over the past 72 hours.
Under Billy’s direction, Guarino walked through the events of her Thursday through Sunday morning, explaining what her schedule looked like, who she ate with in the dining halls, and how far apart she sat from friends while socializing. Parker explained that the College defines a close contact as someone who has interacted with the positive patient for more than fifteen minutes at a distance closer than six feet apart.
In the fall semester, exempting arrival week and students who tested positive during quarantine, patients had an average of 6.5 close contacts. During Jan Plan, this number went up to 8. Parker noted that while this might not sound like a dramatic change, the significant number of positive cases over JanPlan stretched his team of four considerably, as the cases “quickly add up.”
After a question from Class of 2023 co-president Josh Brause regarding COVID-19 quarantine rumors, Parker elaborated that an important factor of determining close contacts is the patient themselves. This explains how only some students in a classroom qualify as close contacts when a class member tests positive and how other contacts who do not perfectly fit the definition of “six feet, fifteen minutes” still qualify as close contacts.
Despite this, Parker emphasized that the College does not just place people “willy nilly” in quarantine. While the team wants to ensure they are cautious in their decision making, in the event of grey area, they will follow up with the patient to make sure they fully understand the events surrounding their contact to make an informed decision.
Parker said that there is no written amnesty policy for what he should do with information his team learns during contact tracing, like if a student had attended a gathering of over ten people. He explained that his team is focused on the health and safety of students with COVID-19 and their close contacts. He said that if he learned of an “egregious” violation, he would pass that on to a disciplinary team.
Parker said the support during this difficult time for his small team from across campus was overwhelming, and he has not found a need to expand his team on a permanent basis. He thanked those who supplement the full-time employees when they are overwhelmed, including those working in testing, Dean Karlene Burrelle-McRae `94, the Vice President of the College, and the General Counsel, who he said have all assisted with contact tracing.
Class of 2023 Senator Silas Gramaglia asked about how the new variants of COVID-19 would affect the College. Dr. Caroline LaFave DO `06, a provider at Garrison-Foster Health Center, said that if Mayflower Hill were to feel the effects of the variants, travel restrictions may be further tightened.
Chair of Communications Abby Recko `22 asked why the main doors to Cotter Union have been locked. President Ashlee Guevara `21 explained that, because those doors do not have to be unlocked with a Colby Card scan, people outside the testing regimen were able to enter the building. So, those doors are locked and students can scan into other entrances. In response, class of 2023 Co-President Cat Merkle suggested that Colby card scanners be added to the main doors.
Recko also asked why Dana dining hall was half blocked off. She said that it did not make sense to her because, if the goal was to decrease seating capacity, fewer tables in a larger area would make more sense, as it would allow diners to sit further apart from each other.
Brause asked if the College was lending its refrigeration capabilities to the state’s vaccination efforts, to which Parker replied that the school has indeed provided some of its industrial freezers to the state. The current COVID-19 vaccines need to be stored at very cold temperatures: Moderna’s between -13°F and 5°F and Pfizer’s between -112°F and -76°F.
Guevara asked Dr. LeFave if the College was considering requiring double mask-wearing. LeFave said that the CDC study on double masking was only based on a person with two masks on being coughed on by someone without a mask on and used only very specific kinds of masks. So, Dr. LeFave said that her team will not be recommending double masking as of now. Rather, she said that wearing a well-fitting mask is the most important thing, indeed, even more than distancing.
~ Sonia Lachter ‘22 and Mady Hand ‘22