Staff Writer: Roxanne Hepburn
As winter break came to an end and the spring semester was right around the corner, Umass Dartmouth students had one thing on their mind: the Omicron variant. Cases of this new COVID variant were popping up everywhere across the US, and it was inevitable that the students of UmassD would be affected by this crisis. What the students were really wondering, though, was how their college would handle this delicate situation. Was Umass Dartmouth forming a plan to address the coming onslaught of positive cases that would come with the start of the semester? I spoke with students to hear their experiences interacting with the university after testing positive in the upcoming days before/first day of the semester.
In late December of 2021, Umass Dartmouth announced that all returning students must obtain a booster shot for their COVID vaccines before arriving on campus for the spring semester (with exemptions available). A couple of weeks later, in early January of 2022, the university announced that all students must test negative for COVID-19 before being allowed to attend classes/move-in on their first day back on campus.
UmassD asked students to schedule their tests before showing up at the testing center; however, there was one issue for many residential students. They had been asked to schedule tests for when they arrived but had yet to receive any information on what day or time they were supposed to move back in. A residential sophomore of the Pine Dale building stated their opinion on the school’s slow release of information: “I just think that if you’re expecting people to make appointments for COVID testing on campus, the school should release the move-in times beforehand. It was already slow and hectic for fall semester’s move-in, so adding testing is going to be a nightmare. The school should plan better to fit these requirements.”
Umass Darmotuh’s spring 2022 COVID-19 action plan was already falling apart, and the semester had not even started yet. The only thing left to do for students was hope the university’s response to positive cases would go more smoothly.
I spoke with a different anonymous residential student of the Pine Dale building in their sophomore year who tested positive for COVID six days before their move-in day to hear about what it was like communicating with the university about their situation. “The first thing I did after I tested positive was look at the emails the school had sent out,” they explained, “I had tested through a pharmacy/doctor’s office as requested through the school and tried to email firstname.lastname@example.org asking about whether or not I could still come back in six days.” However, that email did not work. Every email the student sent was immediately bounced back. They tried different spellings and wordings, checking the Umass Dartmouth website for any other provided email they could message, but they could not find anything that worked.
“Finally I just emailed my advisor. I was getting frustrated and they were the only faculty I knew I could reach out to and get a reply back.” Their advisor replied, sending the student to the Health Services Patient Portal, where they were able to report testing positive and find the information they needed. Because the student’s booster shot was already in effect, they only had to isolate for five days and were able to move in during their initially scheduled time slot. The student expressed their dissatisfaction with UmassD’s contact system: “The school made it unnecessarily difficult to find out where to go and what to do if you test positive for COVID. Information provided to students sent them in the wrong direction and it was never communicated that all the answers could easily be found on the Patient Portal.”
After hearing about the residential side of testing positive before move-in day, I focused on the commuter population of UmassD. I spoke with an anonymous commuter student in their junior year to hear their experience about testing positive on the first day of classes: “walking into the testing center I felt perfectly healthy, I was anxious, not for testing, but for the day of classes ahead.” They described the typical testing process, signing a health disclosure form, waiting in line, swabbing their nose, waiting some more for their results. “There was a man shouting out the names of people whose results were ready and when they finally yelled my name a woman approached me and said ‘so I just wanted to talk to you about your test results. You tested positive.’ My stomach just dropped.”
The student was lead into a separate area to fill out a form asking questions such as vaccine status, if they had tested positive before, and if they had been to any large gatherings recently. They turned in the form and were brought into what they characterized as an “interrogation room.” A different woman gave the student a rundown of the situation, discussing the possibility of false negatives and false positives. Still, she emphasized the need to quarantine like they are sick regardless. They were informed not to go to class and go straight home to isolate themselves. The student indicated that the staff was super nice and informative, recounting the smooth process even during the unfortunate circumstance. “In the end I was just taken aback by the positive results because I had been feeling great all day.”
It seems that Umass Dartmouth has been working on improving the school’s response to positive cases as circumstances change and the university gathers more experience working around the Omicron variant. I can only hope that UmassD has already begun planning how to handle the return of students after spring break.