Yale Daily News

As Thanksgiving quickly approaches and students prepare to leave campus for the remainder of the semester, the surge in COVID-19 cases among students has cast a film of uncertainty over their last two weeks on campus.

Last Friday, a 20-case COVID-19 cluster was identified among undergraduates living on campus. This cluster led the University to elevate its COVID-alert level to orange and place students in Davenport, Hopper and Saybrook colleges in a weeklong quarantine, in which students are only permitted to leave their dorm rooms to be tested twice a week, use the bathroom, pick up meals from the dining halls, attend medical appointments or spend time outside in 15-minute intervals while adhering to public health standards.

Eleven first-year students in those three colleges interviewed by the News expressed frustration and anxiety about spending their last weeks on campus isolated from friends, uncertain about their departure plans and, at worst, sick with the coronavirus.

One first-year student interviewed by the News tested positive on Nov. 2 and moved to isolation housing on Old Campus when their results came back last Tuesday morning. Their symptoms — including a low grade fever, fatigue and body aches — first appeared on Nov. 3, though they expect to return to their dorm later this week, 10 days after their symptoms emerged.

“I have some friends here [in isolation housing] because we got it from each other, but I miss my friends in Davenport and feel bad they have to stay inside,” the student, who requested anonymity to avoid the possibility of revealing the identities of other students who tested positive, said. The University does not share identifying information about students who test positive — the data is governed by privacy protections under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act — unless it is necessary for “public health,” Chief Privacy Officer Susan Bouregy previously told the News.

Braden Wong ’24 was contact traced in connection to the COVID-19 cluster on Wednesday, Nov. 4. He has been in his room since then and will remain there until a day or two prior to November break. 

Wong said he has been “trying to make the best” of circumstances “beyond [his] control.”

The cluster itself

Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd characterized the cluster of cases as “individual students who were interacting in small, overlapping groups.”

Contact tracing is still underway, but so far, the cluster is contained only to undergraduates, according to Boyd.

“We should all be concerned about the increasing rates in New Haven and Connecticut, and make sure we are abiding by the evolving public health guidelines,” Boyd wrote in an email to the News. “Eating inside restaurants does appear to pose a higher risk, and that’s why [last Friday’s] advice urged students to order delivery instead.”

In an email sent to the students in the three colleges on Nov. 6, Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun informed the students of the quarantine and stated that the cluster of 20 cases appeared to be linked.

In his email, he stated that the students who were not contact traced and placed in quarantine were of particular public health concern.

Hopper Head of College Julia Adams wrote to the News that she expects this phase of the University’s public health protocols to “conclude successfully” with the continued cooperation of students and residential college deans and Heads.

“The pandemic has challenged the residential college system, but the community that each of the colleges has sustains us — students and staff — and will help us through the current moment,” Adams wrote.

In a similarly sized COVID-19 outbreak among members of the men’s ice hockey team last month, no such collegewide quarantine measures were implemented.

Moving out early, or moving out late

Students are permitted to leave campus early as long as they are not in contact quarantine or isolation, though they must receive a negative test three days before departure, according to Boyd. But as November break inches closer, being placed in a two-week contact quarantine in the upcoming days might affect students’ departure plans.

According to Boyd, students who are still in quarantine or isolation when campus closes on Nov. 21 will be asked to stay until they are released by the Yale Health team.

For several students in Hopper, Davenport and Saybrook, Chun’s announcement last Friday hardly came as a surprise.

“I don’t know anyone to whom quarantine came as a major shock,” Hopper first year Lucy Hodgman ’24 said.

Simon Van Der Weide ’24, a member of Saybrook College, expressed similar sentiments, saying that he is less surprised that there was an outbreak and more surprised at “how long it took to happen.”

Wren Wolterbeek ’24 said that learning that people in her residential college, Davenport, were likely close contacts to multiple positive cases created “an odd sense of limbo and stress” in her suite.

She explained that several of her classmates had arranged to leave campus earlier last week when they suspected a quarantine might soon be in effect.

“Their privilege really stood out to me and, in all honesty, made me mad,” Wolterbeek wrote in an email to the News. 

While Saybrook College first year Elise Williamson ’24 is still planning on going home on Nov. 21, she added that she would consider moving her flight up if another week of quarantine is implemented.

“I still plan to leave campus on the last day we are allowed on campus, hoping to squeeze every moment out of my time here,” Van Der Weide said.

Since most first-year students are not eligible to return to campus in the spring, many of them will not see their classmates in person until fall of 2021.

Voices from quarantine

Just two weeks shy of leaving campus for the fall, the weeklong quarantine reminded Hodgman of her first few weeks at Yale, when a campuswide quarantine was in effect — except without the reprieve of being able to eat with friends outside or spend time in her college library or buttery.

Hodgman noted that the timing of the quarantine — right before students leave campus — brings additional “sadness and uncertainty” as she is suddenly limited to interacting with a much smaller group of people.

Audrey Zhong ’24 added that her college has been strictly enforcing the 15-minute intervals students can spend outside, and that it’s been a “very strange experience.”

“Lots of us are frustrated since we only had two weeks left together, and now it’s cut short,” Zhong said.

Sebastian Romero ’24, a student living in Saybrook College, said he has been hunkering down on his studies while observing the quarantine. Wolterbeek is passing time playing card games and studying for midterms. And Williamson added that she is “trying to stay optimistic and flexible” and is keeping busy with schoolwork, reading and calling friends back home.

Anup Bottu ’24 told the News that he felt like he was “hitting [his] stride before the quarantine was enforced.” Bottu said that the lockdown has pushed him to reflect on the semester and think ahead to the weeks and months to come.

Despite students’ frustration with the quarantines, many of them said they understand that the measure is necessary.

“Although I wish the quarantine wasn’t needed, I think it is a good response to stop the spread,” Wolterbeek wrote.

According to Abdah Adam ’21, her team of Hopper FroCos have been organizing online programming — like virtual meals and duty nights — to connect first years during their quarantine. She added that first years can ask their dean for a dean’s excuse if they need academic accommodations during the quarantine period.

As of Nov. 11, Yale’s COVID-19 dashboard registers 19 positive cases in the past week among undergraduates living on campus.

Julia Bialek | julia.bialek@yale.edu

Emily Tian | emily.tian@yale.edu

Julia Bialek currently serves as a public editor for the Yale Daily News. Previously, she covered the student policy & affairs beat as a reporter on the university desk. Originally from Chappaqua, New York, Julia is a junior in Saybrook College studying political science and history.