There is a large amount of uncertainty surrounding COVID, especially for students who often consider themselves to be low-risk individuals. How will it affect the body in the short and long term? How contagious are COVID-positive individuals; do they need to quarantine for just ten days or the full fourteen? Will certain strains cause certain symptoms? How many people are completely asymptomatic?
After I myself tested positive for COVID and spent time in University quarantine housing, I can confidently say that for students at Michigan with COVID, the list of questions simply gets longer. The University fails to support students adequately throughout this time, neglecting crucial aspects of public safety while over-promoting useless health “check-ins.” Although increased testing for asymptomatic individuals makes the University’s COVID policies stronger than they were last semester, a large amount of reform is needed when dealing with COVID-positive students. Here is what I learned when I had COVID at Michigan.
If a student contracts COVID, they should be prepared to be bombarded with phone calls from different organizations (University Health Service, Occupational Health Service, Environmental Health Service, DPSS, Division of Student Life, etc.) throughout the week. I have received one or two phone calls a day from different nurses, secretaries, and contact tracers all asking how I’m “feeling” when they really intend to uncover information about to whom I could have spread the virus. I should not have to tell multiple people affiliated with the same organization that I have not had a fever in the past five days. For a COVID-positive individual, this process is confusing, lengthy, and quite stressful.
Furthermore, the University’s contact tracing team is not effectively curbing the spread of the virus by any means. While I caught COVID on Saturday and experienced symptoms on Tuesday, I was not called by the contact tracing team until Sunday. If I had spread COVID in my pre-symptomatic period (Sunday-Tuesday morning), the people I saw would have been infecting others already! What is the point of contact tracing if you wait six days to do so? I was pestered to recall events that transpired a full week prior for no reason. Perhaps the school requires more staff on the Contact Tracing team, but even this may not alleviate the delay in communication.
This poor timing and poor coordination by the University’s COVID response team is unacceptable. Not only do multiple people call me asking the same question (a question that is covered in the daily survey I am required to fill out regarding symptoms and housing needs), but people press students to divulge their close contacts far too late to effectively control the spread.
The biggest injustice is the way in which University Health Service (UHS) quantified my isolation period. CDC guidance suggests to isolate for ten full days since symptoms develop. Since my symptoms came on a Tuesday, I should have been let out of quarantine the next Friday. However, UHS does not trust students to truthfully report when their symptoms developed, thinking that we want to shorten our stay and spread the virus through the community. No matter how many days into having symptoms our positive test is taken, we are required to stay eleven full days after that. For me, that meant that I was forcibly removed from society for two more days than medically necessary.
This rule is in direct conflict with the written guidelines on Michigan’s Covid Blueprint website for isolating. Although medically clear on Friday, I had to wait to leave isolation until Sunday morning. For an individual who has been shut off from the world for almost two weeks, those extra unnecessary days in isolation can be detrimental to mental and physical health. It is downright disrespectful for UHS to insinuate that all COVID-positive students would lie about the day that they first felt symptoms to cheat their way out of isolation. Keeping students in isolation past their tenth day also takes quarantine housing away from newly symptomatic individuals who need it most.
Looking back on this experience, it is safe to say that I would not trust UHS or the University to adequately treat and care for students with any disease. I am waiting with bated breath for the vaccine to become available to the general public; only then will the school return to its once-beloved place in my mind. From the multiple daily calls and surveys asking me to relay the same exact information about my health to the contradictory policies about mandatory quarantine periods, the University offers sick students confusion in the name of care.