by Lucy Abigail Albright and Anna Fofana
Late one early October Friday night, an acting major got a phone call alerting her that a person in her COVID-19 testing pool had tested positive for the virus. She would have to pack for two weeks and be at the Farside residence hall by 5 p.m. the next day to begin quarantine.
“It was very shocking and scary and I put off any preparation for hours that night,” she said via email. She texted her mom, who was both concerned and supportive, yet unsurprised by what had happened.
“When I decided to come back to campus this year, she really believed we'd get shut down within a week or two, so I think my family felt pretty prepared,” she said.
That next day, after dragging her suitcase across campus, the student arrived at her quarantine space, a Farside suite, reminiscent of her freshman year living situation. She was one of 12 students who were quarantined on campus while they awaited their test results.
While in quarantine, food was delivered twice a day. “They dropped off food at the door,” she said. “They knocked, and they scampered away.”
The food was typical D-Hall fare, technically nutritionally balanced but not very pleasant, according to the student.
“For that first night, they brought some kind of loaf of meat of some sort, and like, a damp kale situation, and one of those little sparkling waters from the Pepsi company,” she said.
After being in Farside for a few hours, she got an email informing her of her own negative test results. This led to confusion as to what to do next.
“I tried to call the RC who called me originally, and health services and they were like, ‘They haven't told you anything?’” she said. “Nobody was sure what was going on. And then finally Sunday night, the following night at like 8:30 they said you're clear and that was it.”
That next morning, Monday Oct. 5, Purchase officially announced in an email that a student had tested positive for the coronavirus. This first case of the semester had been reported on the online State University of NY COVID-19 Tracker and had already been visible on that site before the email announcement went out.
The next day, the college announced a total case count of three, all in the acting program. The SUNY-wide COVID-19 tracker says that the first case was reported on Oct. 3.
For Catherine Young, another student in the acting program, the cases didn’t come as a shock.
“I was surprised when everything came back negative the first round,” Young said. “Maybe I'm just a pessimist at these times, but that was really surprising to me. I did expect things to, like, falter and fall and crumble, but maybe they haven't.”
The original student thought that the process of moving into the quarantine space could've been handled a little better by the school.
“We had essentially that entire day to get there,” she said via email. “Which feels a little slack to me, but I'm not really complaining. I wouldn't want the job of supervising that process.”
Pool testing works by combining test samples from multiple students. According to Adrienne Belluscio, Administrative Director of Health Services, these pools generally have 12 students each, usually those who stand in line together to get tested.
The pool that tested positive at the beginning of October had 12 students, Belluscio said via email.
“Should any one of the tests in a group come back positive, all people in that pool will have their samples tested for a second time at the lab to identify the positive individual or individuals,” said Dean of Student Affairs Patricia Bice in an email to the student body. “This does not require students having another sample taken.”
After all the samples were tested, the individuals with negative results were released from quarantine. As of Oct. 13, Belluscio said that six students remained in quarantine due to exposure to the virus, and two in isolation after testing positive. By that point, Belluscio said, the first person to test positive had completed the 10-day isolation period and been released.
Weeks before students were back on campus, Dining Services, OCE and Health Services met with the college to plan out how food would be provided for students in quarantine.
This is according to Ian Mungo of Dining Services, who said that OCE staff members deliver the food to quarantined students. In addition to wearing protective gear and performing daily temperature checks on themselves, staff members take precautions to not come into contact with the students while dropping off the meals. When making a delivery, Mungo said, the staff member will knock first, then leave the food in front of the student’s door.
When the acting student went into quarantine, she said she was informed that students on meal plans would have their accounts swiped twice a day, and those without meal plans would receive a bill for the cost of the food.
For students not in quarantine, the dining hall itself has been adapted to decrease COVID-19 risk. Food is served in disposable containers from behind plexiglass barriers, Mungo said, and students receive their whole meal at once, without the option of coming back for seconds.
Bice said she has been working to communicate information and create policies in regards to COVID-19 safety. Bice says she feels concerned for the well-being of students and faculty who test positive for the coronavirus, as well as for the safety of those who have been in contact with them.
“As dean, I am always concerned with the welfare of our students and faculty,” Bice said by email. “Until the pandemic is under control, we will continue to listen to the health experts, guidance from SUNY, feedback from students, faculty and staff to keep everyone safe while continuing to offer a quality education.”
Young says that other students seemed preoccupied with knowing who had the virus, though she herself feels uncomfortable with the rumors.
“People are like, ‘well, who is it, who is it, who is it?’” Young said. “Maybe they were being irresponsible or maybe they just touched a doorknob.”
An email to the campus community from the Office of the Provost backs up her sentiment: “Contracting COVID-19 does not mean that anyone violated our campus policies or did anything wrong.”
At the time of this writing, there has been a new COVID-19 case in the dance program. According to an email from the Office of the Provost, 23 people are now in quarantine due to potential exposure. All in-person classes and activities in the program are on hold until Oct. 29.