COVID-19 positive students decry updated protocol

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Photo: Hongyu Liu

COVID testing site locating at 116 Harrison Avenue.

By Olivia LeDuc, Staff Writer

Students who contracted COVID-19 this semester feel “frustrated” with the college’s loosened COVID policies, specifically citing the isolate-in-place model that impacted how they experienced isolation.

After the Spring 2022 semester ended, Emerson updated its COVID-19 procedures on May 16. The college shifted to a symptomatic-only testing method, moved to an “isolate-in-place model” for positive cases, and dropped the mask mandate in almost all campus spaces—excluding the Emerson Wellness Center where masks are still required.

The policy shift, announced in April by Associate Vice President for Campus Life Erik Muurisepp, cited the decline of local cases and consultation with Tufts Medical Center and the Boston Public Health Commission as the reasons for the updated protocol.

While the policies reportedly “fared well” over the summer, students who tested positive this fall are decrying the college’s approach to containing COVID-19 cases after they experienced an unhelpful isolation period.

“Isolating under Emerson’s new COVID protocols was overall very frustrating,” said Amya Diggs, a sophomore journalism major who contracted COVID in early September. “I don’t think that the school is taking COVID as seriously as [it] should.”

Diggs said she tested positive shortly after her roommate, Molly Howard, a sophomore theater and performance major, received a positive test result on Sept. 9. Both roommates isolated themselves in their dorm room in the Piano Row residence hall for five days in compliance with Emerson’s policy and CDC recommendations.

According to the college’s “isolate-in-place” model, a roommate of a positive student has the option of remaining in the room, or they can seek alternative housing “at their own expense.” For Diggs, this isolation method was “useless,” and she believes it subjected her to exposure.

In an attempt to limit her contact with Howard, Diggs said she initially moved her mattress into the common area of her suite. When she tested positive, she moved back into her room and isolated herself with Howard to keep her distance from her other suitemates.

“Making COVID-positive students room with their COVID-[negative] roommates makes no sense,” Diggs said. “I’m confident that the only reason why I got COVID is that my roommate had it and passed it on to me.”

Howard shared the same annoyances as Diggs with her experience in isolation and the risks of the modified policy, and was also concerned about potential exposure and sharing a living space with her roommate after contracting the virus.

“I felt completely abandoned by the college and [its] new policies,” Howard said. “[Emerson] provided me and my roommate zero support.”

Additionally, the “isolation-in-place” policy guidelines state that COVID-positive students must isolate in their assigned living spaces or are “strongly encouraged” to return home or make alternate living arrangements. This encouragement by the college was inaccessible for Howard, who is not local to the area and was in “no position” to rent a hotel room for 10 days in Downtown Boston. 

Diggs and Howard’s disappointments with the college’s relaxed isolation measures were also mounted with the instructions for leaving their room to get food. Students isolated in place on-campus are permitted to go and complete “necessary tasks” such as picking up food in take-out containers from Dining Services. 

Howard said she was still infectious when she left her room to obtain meals, but as much as it was “uncomfortable,” she had no alternative.

“I ran into several friends while I was still fully contagious who knew that I was sick and I could feel how uncomfortable they were,” Howard said. “I had no other choice.”

Diggs said she also felt uncomfortable leaving her room for food pickup.

 “I was terrified of getting other people sick, especially since most students around campus aren’t wearing masks,” she said.

For Mike Riso, a junior theater and performance major who tested positive for COVID on Sept. 25, the most frustrating part of isolation was missing classwork.

“I do wish there was a bit more understanding promoted within staff in regards to missing classes due to having COVID,” he said. “As far as I’ve been told, it’s treated like any other unexcused absence, which I find pretty reductive.”

Emerson’s symptomatic testing policy switched from its previous testing strategy of mandatory weekly COVID tests. Students are expected to report positive test results by filling out the COVID-19 Self Report Form.

Diggs said the new testing policy, atop the other changes, was a display of ignorance from Emerson. 

“There’s no way that everyone is going to go out of their way to get COVID tested when they aren’t required to,” she said.

At the Sept. 29 Faculty Assembly, administration asked faculty to submit a record of students that said they are positive for COVID through the Share a Concern portal, an anonymous person familiar with the matter told The Beacon. 

“I view it as a sign that the college has no idea how many students are getting infected and no idea what is the COVID positivity rate,” the source said.  

While the college continues to monitor the current state of the pandemic and still follows CDC guidelines, students believe a more muscular response to COVID is necessary to limit the spread of the virus. 

“The lack of testing students and holding [the Emerson community] accountable concerns me for future outbreaks,” Howard said.