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Opinion: Positive Case Procedures Needs Change
Jerry Huang ’23 Associate Editor
October 31, 2020

Two weeks ago, Deerfield sent home more than ten students deemed “close contacts” following the detection of a positive COVID-19 caseon campus. Despite seemingly being prepared for such a scenario well beforehand, these students had to handle all the logistics of their departures within the span of a day, making hectic calls to parents and hastily packing the bare minimum for their mandated quarantines. 

Soon enough, as if nothing had happened, every possible lead involved in the spread of a positive case was separated from campus. Parents living beyond short driving distances had to rearrange their already busy schedules to travel to Deerfield. The process was filled with ambiguity as there was no set timeline for these students to return: they were left waiting in the dark. Upon their return to campus, each student was required to quarantine for around four days. For this approximate 14-day period of calls, trips, and isolation, students were further separated from an already distanced community. The messy situations these students were placed in for the past month raise the question: is there any way to develop a more efficient and accommodating alternative?

The most notable issue with the current system is its logistical nightmares. As soon as there is a single positive case, all close contacts are immediately taken off campus to their designated quarantine accommodations. For many, this location is hours away, requiring much more time than the given period to plan a return. While guidelines prior to this fall did emphasize the importance of having a quarantine location in close proximity to Deerfield, such accommodations are difficult to find under the circumstances of health protocols and accountability. For those who call places beyond New England home, this often requires relying on distant relatives or the families of peers. Placing the responsibility of finding a safe, reliable location to spend two weeks in on such short notice places unnecessary strain on students and their families.

Another major concern in the current system is for the health and well-being of close contacts’ families. With the current unpredictability of COVID-19, sending students home can do more harm than good: itcan place elderly, infant, and immunocompromised family members at severe risk, and at the very least will require significant changes to living arrangements to accommodate the care of a potentially COVID-positive student. Furthermore, close contacts with family members working in the healthcare and other frontline industries could jeopardize the ability of a family member to continue their work. In considering the possible implications of their current positive-case protocols, Deerfield must pay special attention to the various circumstances that these students may return home to. While the Health Center, with facilities like negative pressure rooms and readily available tests, may be equipped to accommodate a potential positive case, this is not the case for many families and their homes.

But beyond the logistics, current protocols also lack the necessary support needed to help students adjust to such an abrupt change in their academic and social lives.These students go from living under emerging-phase regulations with their friends to entering complete isolation, severing the relationships they had built with their peers and mentors over the past few months. 

Arguably, an even bigger problem is students taking classes over zoom when they could have been in person if students didn’t need to quarantine off-campus. Classes over zoom often leave online participants out of discussions and conversations that are critical for an engaged learning environment. Staring at a screen for at least 4 hours a day to attend classes results in headaches, itchy eyes, and mental strain. Students can altogether be left feeling very “out of it.”

Wouldn’t it be better if students could return to in-person classes sooner and mitigate the time over zoom?

This logistical, community health-risking, family-stressing snowball exists because of one positive test. What if all of this could have been averted? 

Imagine a protocol that lessens the stress on families, prevents the social isolation of students, and cuts away at unnecessary time close-contacts have to face away from campus. 

Most definitely, the protocol should come from where it all started: the positive test result. A more straightforward outcome could be achieved if the student were to be tested twice or even three times, while close contact students were isolated in the Dewey or their dorm room. If all those three tests came back negative, students could just go back to their normal lives instead of being separated from campusThis would also eliminate any chances of a false positive.

While tests are being evaluated and close contact students isolated in  Dewey, parents should be notified that their child potentially needs to quarantine back home or their accommodation. This would give parents more time to make any housing adjustments and solve any logistical issues regarding pick-up.

The school is already working to implement an improved process for handling positive cases. However, whatever plan the school comes up with, the burden should not fall on parents to figure out —on a moment’s notice— how to get their child back home safe, and healthy. There are clear options for making this already anxiety-filled process a little less stressful. The “Distant” in the 4 D’s requires us to distance ourselves wisely, not unnecessarily.