Even as undergraduates prepare to depart campus for the semester, there remains some mystery surrounding what happens when a student tests positive for COVID-19.
The News spoke with four Yale administrators and staff members in charge of coordinating and providing care to undergraduate students who test positive for COVID-19 to better understand what students should expect if they receive a positive result. From speaking with contact tracers to moving into isolation housing to checking in daily with medical professionals, there is a general protocol that students will follow. But more than anything, all of the individuals who spoke to the News stressed that students should be aware that they will be cared for.
“We have an extraordinary team of health professionals who are serving our students in different ways,” Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun told the News. “We have doctors who take care of students, contact tracers who identify other students at risk. If I had a one-liner to students who saw a positive result pop up on their MyChart, I would tell them to be in touch with the doctors, cooperate with contact tracers and not to worry. We will take care of you.”
The initial positive result
After students swab their nose and provide samples for their COVID tests, it typically takes about 24 hours for them to get their results back. According to Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd, when a positive test result comes in, that result is communicated to students through MyChart, the online portal where students can access their medical records.
As the test result is shared with the student, it is also shared with a student health team known as the Resulting Team, which gets notified about positive tests and is in charge of calling all University employees, students and dependents who test positive for COVID-19. Chief of Student Health Dr. Christine Chen is the medical provider consultant for the Resulting Team, and she is one of the two medical consultants for the Campus COVID Resource Line.
Chen’s team works closely with the Care Management Team — a group of nurses who call patients who test positive for COVID-19 on a regular basis throughout their isolation periods — as well as the Yale Contact Tracing Team.
Student Health providers manage all symptomatic students calling into Yale Health and any positive students who require provider-level care.
When the Resulting Team calls students, they inform them that they have tested positive and begin to walk them through what they should expect in the hours and days to come. The Resulting Team also answers questions about COVID-19 generally. According to Chen, students often have questions about laundry services, their length of stay in isolation, how to inform their friends that they have tested positive and what to do if their symptoms worsen while in isolation.
After students get off the phone from the Resulting Team, an email goes out to the student’s dean and head of college, Boyd, Yale Dining — which will coordinate food deliveries— and the Yale Conferences and Events staff who set up the isolation room. Students will then get an email with instructions for moving into isolation housing, information from dining about ordering meals for each day and other pertinent details.
Deans and heads of college will often reach out to students, offering support. But Boyd clarified that the notice that they receive only says that a student is going into isolation housing, not that the student has tested positive, as that is private medical data. However, it is generally understood that the reason a student goes into isolation is that they have tested positive.
Moving to isolation housing: “The COVID hotel”
If the student who tests positive is living on campus, they will move into isolation housing in Bingham Hall on Old Campus. Students living off campus can choose whether to isolate in their residence or move into isolation housing. Students moving into isolation housing have around 90 minutes to collect their belongings and move into Bingham Hall.
Students living on campus have the option to be walked from their dorm to isolation housing by a Public Health Coordinator, which “gives them a companion for the trip over,” according to Boyd.
While Welch Hall is also reserved for isolation housing, there have never been enough students in isolation housing at one time to warrant expanding out of Bingham. According to Boyd, Bingham Hall holds 136 people, and Welch Hall has a capacity of 89. She stated that there have never been more than 30 people in isolation housing at any point and that there are typically only a few people in the isolation building at a time.
If there is enough space, students who are not enrolled in residence and even students who are on leave are offered the opportunity to use Yale isolation housing if they test positive.
Old Campus isolation housing is run by Yale Conferences and Events. According to Nathan Lubich, the assistant director of operations for Yale Conferences & Events, Yale Conferences & Events was responsible for organizing and managing events and programming on Yale’s campus prior to the pandemic. But due to the pandemic’s restrictions on campus events and summer programs, Yale Conferences & Events is now also helping to support the University at large as it navigates the complexities of running a campus during the pandemic.
From working with local emergency responders to provide isolation housing during the spring to helping Yale College create a move-in process that was as safe as possible in the fall, Yale Conferences & Events has been supporting the University in a unique way.
According to Lubich, Yale Conferences & Events has a field office operating out of Connecticut Hall that is open seven days a week and staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. The office staff is in charge of setting up the isolation rooms when a student tests positive, coordinating student arrivals and fielding student needs and questions while those students are in isolation.
“Our field office is regularly in contact with Yale Health and the Care Management Team and serves as the first point of contact for students or campus partners for issues related to isolation housing,” Lubich wrote in an email to the News.
In isolation housing, students get food delivered through Yale Dining for their meals, with a menu of items they can choose. However, students are also permitted to use food delivery apps, as long as they coordinate with the Yale Conferences & Events office to ensure a no-contact delivery.
While in isolation, students have access to laundry services, and they can coordinate with Yale Conferences & Events for friends to drop off belongings and packages. While no outsiders are permitted to enter isolation housing, the students in isolation housing are permitted to interact with each other. Boyd commented that students in isolation with their friends, teammates or partners often form small communities.
“We jokingly call the isolation housing ‘The COVID Hotel,’” Boyd said. “It’s not a very good hotel, but there is food, laundry, there are other people there, there is a number to call with questions or concerns and there are people to support you. We even got the heat turned on there before it was turned on anywhere else because students were cold.”
Boyd recalled that when the number of people in isolation was low toward the beginning of the semester, Chen dropped off milkshakes for the students in isolation. To Boyd, this exemplifies the level of attention and care students should expect if they test positive.
Chen explained that the first few students who tested positive lived in Bingham Hall by themselves, and much of the human contact they had was done via telephone or video.
“I thought it would be nice to see somebody in person, and for a quick treat,” she wrote.
Support in isolation
About a half-hour after students check into Bingham Hall and settle in, students will have a call with contact tracers. While the Resulting Team call is generally quick, the call with the Contact Tracing Team can last for up to 90 minutes depending on how many contacts people have.
According to Chen, while in isolation, undergraduate students receive daily check-in calls from Care Management nurses. In between the calls, students can call into Student Health or Acute Care with questions are concerns. During the calls, students review symptoms and are offered contact with a mental health provider.
“Based on the discussion, Care Management decides if escalation to a provider for discussion or in-person evaluation is warranted,” Chen wrote to the News. “Higher levels of care beyond these are a stay in the Yale Health infirmary, and transport to the hospital. Care Management is the team that decides when a student has completed isolation.”
However, Boyd explained that Student Health has been tracking both students on campus and enrolled remotely, and she commented that Yale students have generally been “really lucky so far in terms of not having terrible courses of this disease.” She said “a handful” of students have had to stay in the Yale Health infirmary or been hospitalized with serious symptoms.
According to Chen, if students have symptoms, they are permitted to move out of isolation housing ten days from symptom onset, as long as they have gone 24 hours without a fever and show improving symptoms. If students do not have symptoms, they are permitted to leave isolation housing ten days from their positive test date.
The Yale COVID-19 Statistics dashboard reflects that 91 percent of Yale’s isolation room capacity remains available as of Nov. 19.
Julia Bialek | firstname.lastname@example.org