Amidst a spike in cases of COVID-19 on the Lawrence campus, a growing number of students are voicing concerns over Lawrence’s quarantine policies; specifically, that students who test positive are being quarantined in their rooms while their roommates are required to attend class. In a poll conducted by The Lawrentian with 46 responses, 73.9% were opposed to this policy.
Some respondents suggested bringing back quarantining infected students in hotel rooms and Airbnbs, while others suggested the seventh floor of Kohler Hall. One respondent suggested that it would be okay to quarantine students in their rooms if they have private bathrooms in their rooms, such as Hiett Hall and Big Exec Hall, since COVID-19 can spread in the bathroom and shower.
“I would urge against this weird in-between of isolation and yet still very much not,” said first-year James Curry, who tested positive for COVID-19 last week.
Sophomore Lillian Biolo Thompson, who tested positive for COVID-19 last week, said that while she had COVID-19, she was worried about spreading it, since her roommate was going to classes. She also pointed out that she still has to go into the hallway in order to get water and use the bathroom and that the COVID-19 care packages were left at Warch for positive students to pick up, which caused her to worry about spreading it further. Although she doesn’t feel that surveillance testing needs to come back, she wishes they would bring back actual quarantine.
At the Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC) General Council meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 25. Vice President for Student Life Chris Clarke said that students can request to be quarantined outside of their rooms if they’re worried about spreading COVID-19, but that there is limited space. He later clarified that students who live on campus will isolate in place but that there are alternative spaces for special circumstances. Thompson doesn’t feel that it should be on students to request this and worries that it contributes to feelings of guilt for students who catch the virus.
While the majority of respondents disagreed with the idea of sending roommates of COVID-19 positive students to class, some were okay with it as long as the roommate was required to wear a high-quality mask. One respondent pointed out that Lawrence has the technology to be able to exercise caution, such as Zoom classes, but is not using it, while another pointed out that COVID-19 positive students are still being sent to Andrew Commons to pick up food. Words used by survey respondents to describe this policy included “awful,” “neglectful,” “horrible” and “risky.”
“That’s insane,” said one respondent. “Let them rest. Let the rest of us feel safe. Good god.”
“Lawrence’s lax approach is reminding me of [former president Donald] Trump’s COVID policy in 2020,” said another.
Another respondent hypothesized that the policy is because Lawrence doesn’t like to pay for off-campus quarantine for students.
According to an email sent to the student body from Dean of Academic Success Monita Mohammadian Gray ‘92, students who test positive are expected to keep up with their classwork; however, those students are not allowed to attend class in-person, and Zoom is not an option to attend class due to illness or injury.
Many respondents stated that they wish professors wouldn’t penalize students for missing class due to illness if they aren’t positive for COVID-19, since it can take several days for a COVID-19 case to be reflected on a rapid test. One respondent suggested that professors record their classes for students who’ve had to miss class due to COVID-19. One student expressed a desire for the return of surveillance testing, while many requested that Lawrence bring back its mask mandate, either temporarily or permanently.
Dean of Wellness Services Rich Jazdzewski responded to these concerns on behalf of himself and, Vice President for Student Life Chris Clarke, Provost and Dean of the Faculty Peter Blitstein, Dean of Academic Success Monita Mohammadian Gray and Chief of Staff to the President Chrystin Abaray. Jazdzewski said that Lawrence is monitoring and following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Wisconsin Department of Health guidelines, as well as those put forward by local health departments in the Appleton Area. He said that mitigation efforts such as mask mandates and surveillance testing are not recommended by the CDC and will likely not be brought back unless those guidelines change. He added that the agency that accredited Lawrence University gave Lawrence emergency authorization to conduct classes online, but after the authorization expired, Lawrence was no longer able to offer fully remote classes. He feels that there isn’t an equitable way to conduct hybrid classes.
“Teaching and learning in a course not designed to support remote learning in a hybrid format makes the course experience significantly more challenging for all involved,” Jazdzewski said.
Jazdzewski said that there is minimal risk associated with infected students going to Andrew Commons to pick up food while wearing a mask, or showering next to someone who may be infected. He said that COVID-19 transmission in Appleton is currently low and characterized the recent spike in infections as an “uptick” as opposed to an “outbreak.” He added that Lawrence is continuing to provide community members with masks and is enforcing its vaccine mandate, which offers exemptions for religious or medical reasons as well as “personal conviction.” However, Jazdzewski said that Lawrence will continue to adapt to the COVID-19 situation in order to keep cases as low as possible. Currently, there are 28 active COVID-19 cases on the Lawrence campus.