Yale Daily News

After reports of parties in isolation housing, Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd warned students of noise complaints and the possibility of infections spreading from isolation dorms. 

Boyd wrote to students isolating in Arnold and McClellan Halls on Saturday evening, asking them to discontinue social gatherings among students infected with the coronavirus. While four students said the gatherings have helped them cope with loneliness during their time in isolation, Boyd emphasized that noise concerns could trouble students recovering from COVID-19. Boyd also wrote that she had heard rumors of students without the virus sneaking into isolation housing.

“It’s come to my attention that there have been loud nights in Arnold and McClellan, along with some disrespectful behavior. This is very unfortunate.” Boyd wrote in the message to students. “I know that some of you feel fine — and that is wonderful— but others are actually ill. Many of you, regardless of symptoms, are trying hard to stay on top of your work and catch up on sleep.”

Boyd told the News that while students in isolation housing were already infected, and therefore allowed to interact with each other, she had received noise complaints about larger gatherings. 

The isolate-in-place contingency plan that the University announced in January went into effect on Feb. 9, requiring students in single bedrooms to isolate in their residential colleges. The move came in response to a spike in COVID-19 cases last week — Feb. 8 saw 53 cases, while Feb. 9 saw 43, according to the University COVID-19 tracker. Although case counts decreased to 27 on Feb. 11 and 28 on Feb. 12, Boyd wrote that isolation housing was “reaching capacity” last week. 

According to the dashboard, 76 percent of isolation housing is currently available, although that number has remained stagnant since at least Jan. 28. 

In her email to students, Boyd also wrote that she had heard reports of students in isolation housing hosting COVID-negative students who “want to be exposed.” 

“I hope this is not true!” Boyd wrote. “Even if those students have mild cases, they would be adding to the strain on the staff of Yale Health, Facilities, Dining, and others who are working very hard to support you all—and, of course, there is always the risk that they could infect someone more vulnerable. Again, I am hoping this is just an unfounded rumor. In case it is not clear: you may not host anyone in the isolation housing space.”

Boyd later told the News that she had heard a “third-hand story” about students entering isolation housing that she hoped was not true. 

Eliza Lord ’24, who was in isolation housing when Boyd sent the email, said that she knew of some COVID-negative students who had entered isolation housing in Arnold Hall, but that they were all people who had recently contracted the virus and were therefore likely immune from reinfection. 

Lord said that while she had not heard of anyone entering isolation housing to intentionally contract COVID-19, it would not surprise her, adding that people might hope to contract the virus now to avoid being infected during midterm season. 

The majority of socializing, Lord said, was within isolation housing, not with students from the rest of campus. On Friday, Lord said, a gathering of students to play a card game turned into “a big dance party” that she did not attend. 

“I didn’t think it was problematic,” Lord said. “It was to make the best of it. I ended up having to put in headphones because people were partying really late. I get why people could be annoyed.” 

Lord added, however, that the party was not big enough that she could imagine filing a complaint, adding that the only space in Arnold Hall large enough to accommodate a party is a study room which fits “20 to 30 people” at most. 

Isolation housing quiet hours are in effect after 11 p.m. on Sundays and after 1 a.m. on Saturdays, per Boyd’s email. Boyd emphasized that while students in isolation are “welcome to socialize with one another,” they should keep to small, quiet gatherings. 

“Isolation housing is not a space that’s appropriate for a party,” Boyd wrote. 

Several students told the News that gatherings in isolation housing were a source of stability for them during the uncertainty of isolating for COVID-19 infections. 

“Isolation definitely felt easier with a sense of community among the students in Arnold,” Mary Margaret Schroeder ’24 said. “Whether it was playing games, studying, or watching movies, time spent together made the days feel shorter and less monotonous.”

As the partial lifting of the mask mandate goes into effect, staff members grapple with feelings ranging from joy to fear. 

The University’s modifications to its masking requirements were implemented on March 21, allowing students, faculty and staff to unmask in most indoor spaces, including dining halls, libraries and gyms. For the first time since the start of the pandemic, staff will have to be in close contact with unmasked students, and can no longer enforce mask wearing in their workplace. Masks are still required in classrooms and other instructional spaces. 

The News spoke with 27 staff members — 21 dining hall workers and six library staff — many of whom said they were grateful to now have the choice to wear a mask or not. Others, however, voiced safety concerns, saying that the relaxing of the mask mandate has come too soon. 

“I feel like it should be each individual person’s choice based on comfort level,” said Joshua Fontaine, first cook in the Berkeley dining hall. “I am glad for the choice.”

Many dining hall workers said that they would continue to wear their mask at first, and would decide to take it off depending on how many students are present at one time and if they are able to distance or be behind barriers. One staff member, Chy Quaan, described needing a “mask grace period,” before deciding to take his off in Davenport’s dining hall. 

Some staff members described relief at the option of not wearing a mask, and said it will ease the struggle of working long hours over hot stoves. 

“I’m happy,” Kelly Butler said about the change in the mask mandate as she stood over the grill in Silliman. “It’s 1,000 degrees over this thing.”

“It’s hard to breathe back here,” Jasmine McElya, another Silliman dining hall worker, chimed in.  

“I have asthma real bad,” Stephanie Kotchey said in Davenport. “It can be stifling. I want to have the choice.” 

Every staff member, when asked by the News, said that the testing accessibility and high vaccination rates put their mind at ease in some capacity. However, many still said that they want to keep an eye on the COVID-19 case levels and monitor the situation if there is a spike. 

According to the University’s COVID-19 dashboard, 1,092 faculty and staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 since Jan. 1. University Provost Scott Strobel, Senior Vice President for Operations Jack Callahan and University COVID-19 Coordinator Stephanie Spangler did not respond to a question about the breakdown between faculty and staff within the data.

Although cases have gone down significantly in recent days, four dining hall staff members told the News they felt it was unwise to take away the mask mandate when cases could easily rise again — especially after spring break, when many students are returning from across the globe. 

“COVID is still here,” said Caprice Harris, who works in Berkeley’s dining hall. “[Not wearing a mask] affects everyone’s work and safety.”

June Beasley, another employee in Berkeley, agreed that it is “too early” for the masking requirement to be removed, and said that she is afraid of getting sick with this new change. 

Spangler told the News that any staff or faculty member who “feels that they have a condition that places them at increased risk for serious illness from COVID-19” may contact the Office of Institutional Equity and Accessibility for an accommodation. 

Beasley added that she wished plastic guards would be put up for protection if masking is optional, and emphasized the importance for students to continue to sanitize their hands. 

“As it relates to our operations, there has been little or no evidence of transmission in the dining halls and serveries,” Bob Sullivan, senior director of residential dining, wrote to the News. “For those who are vaccinated and boosted, it is up to them to remove their mask should they choose to do so. I emphasize the choice as, if and when some of our staff choose to keep their masks on, they are completely welcome to do so.”

One student, Lusangelis Ramos ’25, said that for her, wearing her mask near staff members shows her respect for them, especially in spaces like dining halls and Commons, where she and other students interact with workers every day.

“There’s a really big power imbalance between Yale and New Haven,” Ramos said. “I feel like it’s a sign of respect to wear these masks and make sure that we’re following all these protocols because we’re interacting with a lot of New Haven residents, everywhere.”

The library staff who spoke with the News said that the general protocol is to still wear masks behind the service desk out of “respect” to fellow co-workers, and to make sure students feel comfortable when walking in or asking for help. 

Three workers at Sterling Memorial Library said that about half of the students are still wearing their masks in the building. Individually, most of the staff members who spoke to the News said they would “keep [their mask] on” for the foreseeable future.

Alex Lance, a frontline services worker at Bass Library and previous student worker, said that throughout the pandemic they had spent many of their shifts walking the halls of the library, checking if students were wearing masks and enforcing the guidelines when they were not. This could spark conflict and push back, and made the job feel like they were “policing [their] peers.”

Now, to remove the masking requirement when they and their student co-workers had “spent so much time trying to enforce it” feels “frustrating,” according to Lance.

Yet, for some other staff members, the new option of not wearing a mask in many of these indoor spaces comes as a comforting return to normalcy.

“I feel like it’s time to turn to the next chapter,” said Richard Rodriguez, who works in Davenport’s dining hall. “To go back to normalcy.”

Yet, for Silliman employee Brandi Williams, who said she has underlying health issues, not wearing a mask leaves too many “what ifs.” She said everyone is doing the best that they can, but that still this new change in the masking requirement “is a bit scary.”

Another isolating student, first year Bo Sergeant, said that during weekend nights, when the rest of the student body is out in New Haven, students in isolation housing are gathering in a self-proclaimed “Camp COVID.”

According to Nikita Paudel ’25, on Sunday night students gathered to watch the Super Bowl and a new episode of Euphoria. 

“For a little bit, it was nice to be able to relax and not feel completely isolated during this time,” Paudel said. “Having friends around me was very helpful for my mental health because it really stopped me from dwelling on the negatives since we are all here together.”

In December, the University began housing COVID-positive students two-to-a-room in isolation housing, leaving many students assigned to a roommate that they had never met.

Bo Sergeant ’25 remarked on the connections many students were able to form with these strangers during their time in isolation. 

“I actually really enjoyed how much we all bonded as a community whilst in Arnold Hall,” Sergeant told the News. “We had parties, game nights, and studied together during the day where possible, and I loved how we all really became friends by the end because of it.” 

Students who test positive for COVID-19 have the option to begin testing out of isolation after five days. 

Correction, March 30: A previous version of this article attributed the term “Camp COVID” to Mary Margaret Schroeder. In fact, this was spoken by Bo Sergeant. The article has been updated to reflect this.

LUCY HODGMAN
Lucy Hodgman covers Student Life. She previously covered the Yale College Council for the News. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, she is a sophomore in Grace Hopper majoring in English.
ALESSIA DEGRAEVE
Alessia Degraeve covers student culture. Originally from Miami Florida, she is a freshman in Saybrook College. She is both an English and Philosophy major.