Co-existing with COVID-19 in college

By Xinran Wang
Boston University News Service

One mid-August morning, Tyler Ha woke up to a call from Boston University, notifying him that he had been tested positive for COVID-19. His girlfriend was sleeping next to him. 

Ha, a fourth-year business undergraduate, had been working for BU Orientation during the summer and stayed between his dorm and his girlfriend’s apartment. But after his diagnosis, he moved into BU’s isolation housing at 580 Commonwealth Avenue.

“Every morning, every day will be the same. I wake up, sit around doing nothing, look at my phone, maybe watch a couple of movies, play some video games, eat,” Ha said. 

For the first several days, Ha said he experienced severe coughing, especially at night.

“A nurse would come every other day,” Ha said. “They would take my blood oxygen level, my heart rate, stuff like that.”

Ha said he could request supplies through a “Need Something, Say Something” program; he asked for a floor lamp because the room was “dark and depressing.” Food was dropped off at his door, and after he finished, he tied the trash and left it where it was delivered.

Ha’s girlfriend, a BU student, was vaccinated and never got the virus, while Ha, also vaccinated, said he must have gotten it outside of school.

“Nobody I interacted with tested positive,” Ha said, “which is pretty crazy.”

Hannah Landsberg, director of case management at BU, said vaccination reduces transmission significantly, echoing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s positive stance on COVID-19 vaccines’ efficacy.

Among students in the Boston area, 97.9% at BU, 96% at Harvard University and 99.6% at Northeastern University have been vaccinated.

Despite the high vaccination rates, some colleges have seen peaks in their COVID-19 numbers this fall. Harvard Business School moved its entire MBA class online after 63 graduate students tested positive in the week of September 19. The number was reduced to 10 three weeks after.

Most universities put students who test positive into designated isolation housing. Those who have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 are asked to quarantine where they live if they experience symptoms or are not vaccinated with a WHO-approved vaccine.

Landsberg said students usually bring “electronics and chargers, clothes, and comfort items like their favorite blanket or pillow” into quarantine and isolation, which lasts 10 to 14 days in traditional-style dorms.

“The length is dependent on symptom type, severity and progression,” said Landsberg. “Close contacts must receive negative PCR tests prior to being cleared before the 10-day mark. The isolation timeline is 10 days from symptom onset or 10 days from the positive test date if the case has no symptoms.”

Ha was in isolation for 10 days and came out two days before school started.

“I will say if this happened while I was in class, mid-semester or some point, it would have been very, very, very stressful,” Ha said.

While BU has discouraged virtual classes for students in quarantine or isolation, they can receive help from academic continuity coordinators to communicate with professors, said Steven Jarvi, associate dean for student academic life at BU.

Jarvi said students who are sick can study PowerPoints from lectures and notes from classmates like any past year when they miss class.

Jarvi said he does not control what instructors do, but is “impressed with how flexible faculty are being.”

“The students that are in isolation are managing to stay current and keep up with their classes,” Jarvi said. “So whatever’s being provided them seems to be working.”

Students in quarantine or isolation also receive frequent calls on mental health support, Landsberg said, in addition to nurses’ check-ins and other resources at the Behavioral Medicine Department at Student Health Services.

“I would rather have not done it at all,” said Ha. “But with the circumstances, gotta do what you gotta do.”

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