Cracks appear in isolation policy as COVID-positive students stay with uninfected roommates
As COVID-19 cases on campus rise, inconsistencies emerge in the isolate-in-place policy introduced on Feb. 9.
Yale Daily News
As campus COVID-19 cases rise and students occupy isolation housing, on Feb. 9 Yale enacted a contingency plan in which students in single bedrooms isolate in place. But the policy’s rollout has not been seamless — two students told the News on Feb. 10 that they were directed to remain in rooms where one roommate had tested positive but the other had not.
Officially, the isolate-in-place policy only applies to students in single bedrooms — and students with roommates should be guaranteed beds in isolation housing.
“If a student in a double bedroom tests positive, they move into isolation housing as soon as possible,” Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd told the News. “If the test result comes back very late at night, the student will sometimes wait until morning to move; in that case, the other student is advised to sleep in the common room or with a friend.”
But this was not the case for either Pia Baldwin Edwards ’25 or Kristina Yang ’25, both of whom found themselves in double rooms where only one roommate tested positive and was instructed to isolate in place with the other.
Baldwin Edwards ’25, who is a staff reporter for the News, said that her roommate received a call on Thursday morning from Yale Health, instructing her to isolate in their room.
“My roommate was told to stay in the room, I could still go to class, and I did not have to quarantine because I was vaccinated and boosted,” Baldwin Edwards told the News. “They told my roommate that isolation housing was completely full.”
In her email, Boyd wrote that isolation housing was “reaching capacity.” The Yale COVID-19 dashboard, however, currently reports that 76 percent of isolation housing is available, although that statistic has remained unchanged since at least Jan. 28. Students previously told the News that the University had begun assigning roommates to students in isolation housing. Richard Martinello, medical director of infection prevention at Yale New Haven Health and a member of the public health committee which advises University COVID-19 coordinator Stephanie Spangler, told the News that he had not heard anything to suggest that the isolation capacity tracker was inaccurate.
Students isolating in place are expected to leave their rooms only to use the bathroom, attend medical appointments and spend time outdoors in their residential colleges.
Baldwin Edwards’ room, she said, is large enough that it is possible for her to remain socially distanced from her roommate. Their room is also wheelchair accessible, so they have an additional bathroom attached to the suite. The Yale Health official who contacted her roommate seemed to know these details already, referencing the floor plan of her suite, Baldwin Edwards said.
The person who contacted her roommate, she said, did not ask if Baldwin Edwards had previously been infected with COVID-19.
But Kristina Yang ’25, who also tested positive on Thursday morning, was told that she would be asked to quarantine in her room only after she clarified that her roommate had already had COVID-19 a few weeks prior.
Although Baldwin Edwards’ roommate was asked if Baldwin Edwards was comfortable with her staying in the room, Yang said that there was no opportunity for her roommates or suitemates to give consent.
If she had the option, Yang said, she would have gone to isolation housing instead of remaining in her room. Though she received an isolation kit, no food was delivered to her room during her first day isolating in place — instead, the University provided her with a $30 UberEats voucher.
“I personally would have chosen to go somewhere else because I feel like I’m put in a very uncomfortable situation with my friends and the people on my floor,” Yang said. “The only thing I can really do is apologize, because there’s nothing I can do. I can’t not go to the bathroom or not use the shower, and obviously the people on my floor have to be accommodating. They can’t kick me out of here, and so I don’t think Yale should put any of us in a situation like this.”
Boyd and Martinello confirmed that the direction these students received was an oversight that ran counter to the isolate-in-place policy.
“This is not part of the protocol at all — it needs to be corrected,” Boyd wrote in a text to the News the evening of Feb. 10. “And corrected tonight.”
But later in the evening, Boyd wrote that she had looked through the records of students isolating in place and “did not believe there are any students in shared bedrooms,” excepting a few situations which she planned to confirm with residential college heads and deans.
“The only condition in which an isolating student would share a bedroom with another student is if they are both positive, or very recently so,” Boyd wrote. “Otherwise, no-one in isolation should be sharing a bedroom. The isolation assignments are based on the information students provide the Yale Health Care Team about their housing configuration. If an isolating student is however sharing a bedroom, they should call Isolation Housing (203-432-4020) right away to be moved to Arnold or McClellan. If a student is concerned that their roommate is isolating in place, they should contact their dean, head of college, or me.”
Per Boyd’s Wednesday email, students who are directed to isolate in place are expected to remain in their rooms except to use the bathroom, attend medical appointments and spend “brief periods” outdoors in their residential college courtyards.
Students isolating in place should not be wary of spending time outside, Martinello said, noting that residential college courtyards were generally a “very safe environment,” especially if COVID-19 positive individuals remained socially distanced.
The isolate-in-place policy goes into effect as cases of COVID-19 rise across campus. The University COVID-19 dashboard reports 44 cases on Feb. 7 and 53 cases on Feb. 8. These numbers mark a vast improvement from early January, when cases peaked at 167 in a single day, but a regression from earlier this week — between Feb. 2 and Feb. 6, daily case counts never rose above 14.
Students concerned about potential exposure to COVID-19, Martinello said, should continue to regularly test and monitor symptoms for up to 10 days after they suspect exposure.
To avoid becoming infected from these exposures, Martinello urged students to be conscious about their mask wearing habits and avoid congregating indoors without masks.
“We’re all in this community together,” Martinello stressed. “And it really does take everybody to try to make Yale a safe environment.”
Undergraduate students are currently required to test twice weekly for COVID-19.