COVID outbreak at Kasteel Well forces students out of rooms

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Photo: The Berkeley Beacon Archives

Emerson’s Kasteel Well campus in Well, Netherlands.

By Bailey Allen, Deputy Enterprise Editor

Students at Emerson’s Kasteel Well have been moved out of their dorms to make space for quarantine and isolation housing as part of the satellite campus’ response to a renewed surge of COVID-19.

The Spring 2022 cohort arrived at Kasteel Well for the semester-long study abroad program on Jan. 14. While the castle requires weekly testing, it has not publicly reported any positive tests. Nevertheless, some students allege that anywhere between 15 and 20 students are currently in quarantine or isolation—nearly a third of its total student population of approximately 70—forcing the administration to enact drastic measures.

“Too many people tested positive so they started putting positive people with other positive people who tested at different times,” said Lauren Germani, a sophomore visual and media arts major studying at the castle.

Germani was one of the three initial positives within the first week of the semester. She added that multiple students—“about 10 others”—tested positive the second week.

“I was on day seven [of isolation] while [others in my room] were on day two,” she said.

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The Netherlands campus’ apparent shortage of isolation spaces quickly became evident once other infected students were placed with her.

“Originally, when we first went into quarantine, [the administration] said, ‘Avoid the other people you’re quarantining with to avoid testing positive longer,’” she said. “But then they contradicted themselves when they ran out of space and then put us all in one room.”

Some uninfected students, like sophomore writing, literature and publishing major Rachel Tarby, were asked to move out of their rooms to make space for COVID-positive students.

Tarby was moved out of her four-bed room for 12 hours the night she got back from a weekend trip. She said she was told around midnight that because it had its own restroom, her room would become an isolation space, and someone with COVID would be taking her bed.

“It was just crazy because when I packed my stuff to move out—I had to pack up really quickly—they told me to pack for seven to 14 days,” she said. “Then the next day, they told me I could move back in because a bunch of people got out of isolation, so they could move people with the virus into an actual isolation space.”

Rob Dückers, executive director of the Emerson College European Center at Kasteel Well, wrote in an email statement to The Beacon that isolation spaces set aside to accommodate those who tested positive were fully occupied and arrangements needed to be made to supplement the limited number of isolation rooms.

“Because all those in isolation need to use individual (non-shared) facilities, some temporary room moves were required to maintain this requirement,” Dückers wrote.

In a Feb. 11 email to parents of students at Kasteel Well, Director of Education Abroad and Domestic Programs David Griffin sent a “frequently asked questions” page about COVID and isolation at Kasteel Well, prepared by Dückers.

The page included the protocols for the “worst-case scenario”—relocating students who are currently housed in a space with or next to a bathroom and toilet to other rooms.

“I know this one girl whose roommates both had COVID and they had nowhere to put her roommates so they just kicked her out of her room and she slept on the floor in someone else’s room,” Germani said.

Students who test positive at Kasteel Well are required to isolate for at least seven days after they begin to show symptoms. If, after that period they have been symptom-free for 24 hours and test negative on an antigen test, students are able to leave isolation, according to the FAQ email.

Although people can still test positive for COVID-19 on a PCR test—hence the 90-day testing exemption on the Boston campus for those who have contracted COVID—Dückers explained that an antigen test is a good indicator of when to cease isolation, because when the virus is no longer active, it produces a negative result.

On Wednesday night, the Dutch government announced that beginning Feb. 18, the minimum period of isolation would be reduced from seven days to five for individuals who have been asymptomatic for 24 hours.

Germani and her roommates also attended Zoom classes, which proved difficult due to connectivity issues.

“Since we’re in a 14th-century castle, the Wi-Fi is already really bad,” she said. “Two of my roommates and I all had class at 12:30 pm, and because we were all on Zoom at the same time, it would crash every five minutes. For two weeks, I couldn’t understand anything that was happening in my classes; I have a four-hour class on Thursdays and I think I missed 12 hours worth of class.”

“At times, some professors would get a little frustrated when we weren’t being responsive on Zoom,” Germani added. “They didn’t understand that we couldn’t really understand a word they were saying and were cutting out—meanwhile we were literally sick with a fever.”

Germani said she does not blame the professors for the academic trouble she had during her convalescence, but noted that the language barrier between English-speaking students and Dutch instructors added another layer of difficulty.

“I think [the castle] had, like, one case last semester, so it was a lot different from this,” Tarby said. “I was just kind of shocked because I felt that they would have more isolation space, or be more prepared for us.”

Associate Vice President of Campus Life Erik Müürisepp, who serves as the college’s “COVID Lead,” did not immediately respond to The Beacon’s request for comment.