Students report concerns over Harvard contact tracing and isolation housing | News

When Harvard brought a limited number of undergraduate students back to campus in the fall of 2020, it promised that a robust internal contact tracing system would limit exposures to the coronavirus and that comfortable housing would be provided for those who had to self-isolate after testing positive.

The return of the entire student body this fall, however, has put that contact tracing and isolation system under considerable stress — especially with the spike in post-move-in Covid-19 cases.

Students whose contacts have been traced told The Crimson they were concerned about the delay in receiving notification and the lack of information in the message from Harvard University Health Services. Several other people who went into isolation reported a range of problems with their accommodation, including a lack of drinking water, problems ordering food and leaking pipes.

The University is using the Harvard Square Hotel and Cronkhite Graduate Center to temporarily house undergraduate students who test positive and need to be isolated. As of Thursday, 137 Harvard affiliates — including faculty, staff and students living off campus — are in isolation, though some may be in isolation at home, while 33 are in quarantine.

While students from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Faculty of Law can also self-isolate at the hotel, Cronkhite has been restricted to undergraduate students only, according to College spokeswoman Rachael Dane.

As of Tuesday, 79 students were at the two locations in isolation or quarantine, Dane wrote in an emailed statement. All but one were undergraduates.

The Harvard Square Hotel was used as isolation housing during the previous academic year. Despite Cronkhite opening, Dane noted that none of the facilities reached full capacity.

“We can never reduce the availability of either building to zero, as space must be reserved for maintenance issues,” she wrote. “Cronkhite was opened because additional space was needed.”

Harvard spokesman Jason A. Newton declined to comment on the students’ specific experiences in isolated housing, citing privacy concerns.

Positive test

Shortly after Daniel Salgado-Alvarez ’24 tested positive on September 1, he received an email with meal sign-up instructions, a packing list, contact information and walking directions. to his isolation accommodation: the Harvard Square Hotel.

As it was raining, a community guardian from Dudley helped Salgado-Alvarez organize an empty Harvard shuttle to take him to the hotel.

After checking in, however, he said he found he could only order meals between midnight and 10 a.m. For Hotel and Cronkhite students, lunch, dinner and breakfast the next day are delivered together once a day.

“You kind of have to stand for meals,” Salgado-Alvarez said. “I feel like if I order at eight or nine o’clock when I wake up, my food arrives very late.”

Additionally, Salgado-Alvarez said the first week the drop-down menu allowed her to request no more than two bottles of water per day.

“The last boxes contain an orange juice, but not a bottle of water,” Salgado-Alvarez said. “One of the newspapers said that we could order things that would be delivered to us through Securitas, like if we needed cleaning products or water. I’ve been asking for trash bags for three days, and they haven’t given it to me, so I don’t know if people would be lucky with water.

An isolated student at Cronkhite – who The Crimson granted anonymity to discuss personal medical information – also said he could not request more than two bottles of water a day, although he told a nurse that he needed extra water due to low blood pressure.

Three gallons of water were delivered to their room the next day, four days into their self-isolation period. But before he could drink it, the student said he passed out in his room and had to be rushed by ambulance to Mount Auburn Hospital for dehydration.

Students also reported hot water issues at both isolation locations. Salgado-Alvarez said there were no hot water in his shower on some days at the hotel, while the Cronkhite student said the showers there – which are located in a bathroom Shared hallway bath – had no hot water and was leaking.

Dane wrote that “no concerns regarding the plumbing at Cronkhite have been reported to the Faculty of Arts and Science to date”, but “facilities are reviewing these reports to ensure everything is in working order” .

Contact tracing

Aayush Karan ’23 was the only student in his suite of four to avoid contracting Covid-19, but following the exposures he received several contact tracing emails.

In the standard contact tracing email, unvaccinated students are asked to contact HUHS and self-isolate immediately. Meanwhile, asymptomatic vaccinated students are asked to “monitor for any potential Covid symptoms for 14 days after exposure”.

All vaccinated contacts who develop symptoms should notify the HUHS contact tracing team, “stay away from others, get a PCR test as soon as possible, and self-isolate until your test result comes back. test is back”.

“The instructions aren’t too drastic if you’re asymptomatic — it’s just that you test every other day,” Karan said. “You just watched yourself, so that’s what I did.”

When ’21-’22 Alex E. Iansiti received a contact tracing notification on Sunday, he and his cast mates quickly tried to figure out how worried they should be.

“It was like a game of Clue,” he said. “Everyone is trying to assess the damage, to find the culprit, obviously [being exposed] of a roommate would be much worse than someone on our floor, compared to someone in a classroom with a group of people.

After speaking with his suitemates and classmates, he began to suspect that the approximately 90 students of Humanities 20: “A Colloquium in the Visual Arts” had been contacted after their first lecture on September 1. Of Iansiti’s suite and classmates, only those following Humanities 20 also received the notification.

Although Iansiti did not want to find the exact person who tested positive, he said he would have appreciated more information in the email about where the risk came from and the level of risk he faced.

“I wish there were more cues of, ‘Oh, it’s because you’re in Hum 20,’ rather than having to figure it out on my own,” Iansiti said.

Newton, the University spokesperson, wrote in an email that HUHS does not include further details in its alerts to “maintain the confidentiality of the person who tests positive.”

Another student who The Crimson granted anonymity expressed concern about how long it took HUHS to contact him after an exposure.

He said he immediately self-isolated after his friend informed him they had tested positive, but it took another 30 hours for HUHS to contact him.

According to Newton, the HUHS contact tracing team is prioritizing calls to people who are confirmed to be tested because of the risk of spread. Those who know they have been exposed should avoid socializing and complete the University’s symptom screening tool, Crimson Clear.

The student – who said he was fully vaccinated – said he was concerned about the number of people in his position who had been exposed, but were only aware of their exposure after already socializing over the weekend Labor Day weekend, which he called a “recipe for disaster. »

—Editor Claire H. Guo can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @clairehguo.

—Editor Christine Mui can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @MuiChristine.

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