COVID-19 spike disrupts student life
Additional students have been contact traced or entered isolation housing as a result of increased COVID-19 cases on campus.
Jessie Cheung, Staff Photographer
This week’s spike in positive COVID-19 cases has taken a toll on students as they balance uncertainty about the virus with their impending finals and the end of the semester.
According to the Yale COVID-19 dashboard, the University has recorded 102 cases in the seven-day period ending Dec. 4. The bulk of those cases came earlier in the week — 12 positive tests were logged on Nov. 28 and the following four days saw 19 cases each. Those numbers fell to eight cases on Dec. 3 and six on Dec. 4. Still, it is unclear whether the dip represents a sustained decrease in cases, because the University’s testing sites on Saturday performed less than one-third of the tests conducted on Friday.
“Overall, there’s just a feeling of unspoken dread in the air that has been there since the announcement of the Omicron variant,” Brook Smith ’25 said. “I think there’s a lot of fear and feelings that the current situation is similar to March 2020, and we don’t know yet if those fears are rational, but that’s what makes it so frightening.”
Smith described the uptick of student cases coinciding with the emergence of the Omicron variant as a “terrifying — hopefully — coincidence.”
In an interview with the News last week — before the rise in student cases — Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun said he felt “cautious and concerned” about the variant.
“On the other hand, I also feel that we’re about as well prepared for it as an institution can be, in the sense that we have all our infrastructure in place,” Chun said. “It’s a different variant, but we’ve managed the Delta for example, and this is another variant about which we still have a lot to understand.”
Chun added that he trusted public health officials to offer further guidance on student policies regarding the virus.
The recent cluster of cases are likely unrelated to Omicron — the first confirmed case of the variant in Connecticut was reported on Dec. 4.
Dean of the Yale School of Public Health Sten Vermund told the News that the cases reported over the past week should not be a cause for alarm, explaining that public health experts expected a slightly higher positivity rate as a result of students traveling during the break and the onset of flu season.
“I think most of us are pretty relaxed that we can finish the semester safely, just as we’ve been conducting this semester safely.” Vermund said. “There may be the odd professor here and there who might make some modifications, but in my classroom it’ll be business as normal, but business as normal includes a pretty cautious approach to life.”
Nevertheless, the renewed presence of COVID-19 on campus has had a dramatic impact on the lives of many students this week.
Leo Mateus ’24 was contact traced after his suitemate’s girlfriend tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday. By Friday, two of Mateus’ suitemates had also tested positive and had moved into isolation housing.
According to the University’s COVID-19 information website — most recently updated on Dec. 6 — the contact tracing process is initiated when somebody receives a positive test result. People tested at Yale Health or through a campus-based screening program will first receive their results via email, accompanied by “appropriate clinical guidance” and advance notification that the Yale Contact Tracing Team will be in touch. Those who receive a positive test result outside the Yale system should call the Campus COVID Resource Line to notify them of the result.
The team’s goal is to initiate contact tracing interviews within 24 hours of a positive test, according to the website.
“The expectations for vaccination students who are close contacts, like other Yale policies, follow CDC guidelines as well as state and local health department guidance: vaccinated students need to be monitored after an exposure, but quarantine is not recommended,” Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd wrote in an email to the News.
Mateus, who described the experience of being contact traced as “very, very frightening,” told the News that he tried to isolate in his suite over the weekend.
“I have a ton of work to do, but I don’t want to do it because I don’t like working in my room,” Mateus said. “I’m just sitting here doing nothing. I’ll get started on some work and then I’m like, ‘Oh, I’d rather just watch a movie.’ Yesterday I took a four hour nap. And I was like, ‘Oh, I’m getting my rest.’”
But Mateus, who spoke to the News on Sunday, predicted that the return to classes would be a difficult transition.
Mateus said he planned not to attend the classes that offered recorded lectures to avoid interacting with other students. In the classes that require students to attend in person, however, Mateus worried that he would have to “try to stay away from people,” even though he has tested negative for COVID-19.
“What if I’m putting these other people at risk?” Mateus said. “I’ve gotten out and I’ve done my negatives, but what if this is still in me, and I’m just spreading it?”
On Friday, Adam Abarca ’24 learned that he had tested positive for COVID-19, and was swiftly relocated to isolation housing.
But the two initial tests Abarca took in isolation housing came back negative, and he learned that his previous test had been a false positive.
“Isolation housing is kind of the worst place you can be if you’re negative,” Abarca said on Sunday. “I’ve spent basically this entire morning contacting at least nine different departments at Yale, asking them what I should do in terms of testing, how I should be dealing with classes and all that. And I haven’t really been getting any direct answers whatsoever.”
Abarca added that he thought students who were unwilling or unable to go through the “bureaucratic process” of contacting University departments for instructions to leave isolation housing would probably have to stay there for longer than he did.
Nikki Ambrose ’23 had not been able to return to campus following Thanksgiving break until Dec. 6, as she received a positive test while at home with her family and had to spend 10 days in isolation at home.
“I know that I, personally, am very glad to be able to leave isolation and return to campus tomorrow,” Ambrose wrote in an email to the News on Sunday. “A huge part of staying motivated and optimistic during this COVID era has been due to having the camaraderie of my suite and comfort of campus; this past week of isolation reminded me so much of how lonely and draining last fall semester was, and I am glad to get back to the semi-normality of campus.”
Mateus echoed Ambrose’s sentiment, explaining that being separated from his suitemates that tested positive for COVID-19 posed a significant disruption to the normalcy of his life at Yale.
Mateus’ suite reunited during a Zoom call on Friday evening.
“They have symptoms and they’re getting better as they go but it’s just kind of uncomfortable for them,” Mateus said. “But they have each other. They’re not really together but the rooms that they’re in are all next to each other.”
Abarca emphasized that isolation generally, and his brief experience in isolation housing, was “horrible,” although he acknowledged the importance of quarantine to limiting the spread of COVID-19.
“I think it’s very important, and if you are impacted, I think you should go into isolation,” Abarca said. “But I think it also does worry me just because obviously right now is a really stressful time and being isolated, plus stress, plus seasonal depression just seems like a bad combination.”
Edmund Zheng ’24 told the News that the feeling of isolation might extend even to students who are not affected by the virus through contact tracing or infection, adding that COVID-19 restrictions mean that many students feel alienated by typical University life.
Zheng suggested that this could be improved through a more direct relationship between students and the members of the University administration that enforce COVID-19 policy.
“There is no relationship whatsoever between students and COVID-19 policymakers, and they don’t seem to understand how their actions have the capacity to harm campus life and traditions,” Zheng told the News.
University COVID-19 Coordinator Stephanie Spangler wrote in an email to the News that any student with a question or concern about Yale’s current policies and guidelines or community compliance with those policies and guidelines should contact their Health and Safety Leader or call the Campus COVID Resource Line (203-432-6604) or, if they wish to remain anonymous, call the university hotline.
More than anything, Anne Northrup ’22 wrote, she felt “tired” of the continued conversation around COVID-19.
“I’m tired of talking about it, tired of remembering my mask, tired of having it as a footnote consideration on every single thing that I do,” Northrup wrote. “I get that this is an incredibly privileged position to have. I’m vaccinated and not immunocompromised, nor do I know anyone who is immunocompromised. But it’s just enough already.”
Undergraduate students are now required to take two COVID-19 tests each week until the end of the fall semester.