Students voice concerns regarding new COVID policies in college’s first two COVID Q&A sessions

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Photo: Hongyu Liu

Emerson’s COVID-19 testing center.

By Abigail Lee and Hannah Nguyen

Emerson’s Office of Campus Life held its second COVID-19 question-and-answer session Wednesday, completing the first half of the four-part series.

The session navigated students through close contact and positive test procedures for the upcoming semester. Members of the Emerson Wellness Center—the department formed by the merging of the Health and Wellness Center and the Emerson Counseling & Psychological Services—were present, among other college officials.

The Zoom sessions seek to address students’ questions and concerns regarding the college’s updated COVID-19 protocols, which loosened significantly in the Spring 2022 semester. The first session held June 14 addressed general questions from student participants. 

An email correspondence sent to the Emerson community April 13 announced the college’s shift from a surveillance testing model to a symptomatic testing model, recommending symptomatic individuals to use a self-administered rapid antigen test. Masking requirements were also lifted for all campus spaces except for the Wellness Center and all academic spaces. Additionally, the college now follows an “isolate-in-place” model, forgoing dedicated isolation and quarantine spaces for infected and exposed individuals.

Associate Dean and Director of Counseling, Health, and Wellness Brandin Dear noted that students raised concerns about financial inaccessibility of rapid tests at the first session. Dear recommended students order free tests from the federal government and bring as many as possible to campus. He also announced that the Wellness Center would maintain a limited supply of rapid tests this upcoming semester, a decision reached after hearing students’ concerns at the first meeting. 

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“We often go away from these [meetings] thinking even more about what can we do to make this a little better, how can we tweak this?” Dear said.

Co-president of Access: Student Disability Union Kristina Reynolds raised a concern about the college’s decision to end contact tracing in May. Reynolds said she felt skeptical about whether students would hold themselves accountable in doing their own contact tracing, likening it to a “professional job.” 

“I don’t feel comfortable with the school passing that responsibility on to my peers,” Reynolds said. “I don’t necessarily trust all of my peers to be able to inform me that I have been exposed.”

In response, Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Jim Hoppe stated that contact tracing is no longer implemented in most places, including the state of Massachusetts. Hoppe said students were not being given a professional job, but rather, a “responsibility to communicate about their own situation.”

Associate Director of Health Services Lisa Viveiros and Housing and Residential Education Director Christie Anglade emphasized that in the past academic year, students often notified each other responsibly even before the contact tracing team reached the exposed individuals. 

Melina List, co-president of Access: SDU, underlined the need to promote resources like MassNotify, an automated notification system that can serve as a substitute to contact tracing programs. They also discussed centralizing information online for students who are sick and unable to navigate multiple resources. 

“[Think] about students having to jump from different pages and having to reach out to all of these people when they’re sick,” List said. “I can barely do that on a good day.” 

The college’s responses and protocols have evolved since the beginning of the pandemic. Having previously prioritized community-based decisions, the college is now focused on working one-on-one with individuals, according to Hoppe at the first session. Students are encouraged to work with the Wellness Center, Housing and Residential Education department and primary care providers to find specific solutions. 

Reynolds revisited this point and said reaching out for individualized help can be difficult for disabled students. She called on the college to share the resources it offers for individuals.

“We don’t really know if what we’re asking is reasonable,” she said.“I feel like publishing a list of options and services that organizations provide would be just so helpful.”

Hoppe said the complication with publicizing these resources is that they are not “replicable” between individuals. 

“If three people call the [Wellness Center] tomorrow and ask for that kind of assistance, the staff can help them,” Hoppe said. “If 90 did, they’d quickly become overwhelmed. Do all those 90 folks actually need it or is it because they read on a placard?” 

List also asked staff to consider testing options for people who are visually impaired or have fine motor difficulties, such as help from Wellness Center staff administering the rapid tests or the provision of more accessible rapid tests tailored to people who are blind or have low vision.

“I just want to make sure it’s clear to folks that they have options and what they are,” List said.

The college continues to update its COVID-19 information on One Emerson. Students are encouraged to email covid19@emerson.edu for immediate attention. Emerson’s ConcernCenter, an online database of searchable resources for student concerns, including those related to COVID-19, is also available to students. 

A final duo of q&a sessions will take place July 21 and Aug. 3.