The following letter was sent to Interim Vice President of Student Affairs Deb Moriarty along with other members of senior administration on Saturday October 3rd from S. Maverick Irwin, President of the Class of 2024, and Braden Muscarello, President of Brooks College House.
Dear Dean Moriarty,
It is with hopefulness and solidarity that we, the President of the Class of 2024 and the President of Brooks College House, write to you. Given these unprecedented times, we understand the need for vigilant COVID-19 testing. We understand the need for flexibility among students and faculty at the College and around the world. We also understand that for the College to operate, wastewater testing must occur alongside social distancing, mask-wearing, and other public safety guidelines. However, what we, the Class of 2024 and Brooks College House alike, do not understand is the supposed effectiveness of implementing a House-wide quarantine of residents before COVID-19 tests are conducted.
Although effective in determining the presence of COVID-19 in a specific house, wastewater testing is not an effective means of determining the specific individuals who are sick. Restricting the movement of “modified quarantine” residents of a College House to the Dining Hall allows for interaction with one of the most visited common spaces on campus—a space not only where people gather but where they eat as well. While imposing this “modified quarantine” may save the College resources by allowing for the testing of fewer students at a time and overlooking the need for meal catering throughout the quarantine period, this “modified quarantine” is not in the best interests of students, who must continue to interact with the rest of the campus population to obtain food throughout the process.
Furthermore, a quarantine of over five days deprives students of the already scant social opportunities on campus—especially when two of those days comprise the weekend. Had the College already had a policy of “modified quarantine” only after students were individually tested for COVID-19, Brooks would not have had to cancel its weekly Sunday Night Sundaes, one of the few recurrent events available for safely meeting others face-to-face. It seems hypocritical at best to bar students from supervised and distanced events such as this while they’re still expected to enter the Dining Hall for their meals three times a day.
While we support the abundance of caution that wastewater testing represents, we are at the point where we must ask—at what cost? In the week leading up to finals (in fact, the first finals period for the freshman class), we have asked students to quarantine for nearly a week at barely a moment’s notice, forcing them to find replacements for their work shifts, scramble to modify their class plans, and cancel much-looked-forward-to activities. This kind of repeated stress is not a sustainable model to ensure student safety. And as more and more wastewater quarantine tests come back negative, we are shaking the faith of the students who believed their social isolation was for the greater good, subsequently reducing the effectiveness of these “modified quarantines” with each iteration.
We understand that testing over weekends is not feasible. We also understand that the College is not in a financial position to test the entire student body every two weeks. We propose instead that it changes its “modified quarantine” policy to a more student-friendly model that doesn’t mandate extended periods of sudden social isolation. Asking people to quarantine only after they are tested will not compromise student safety any more than the current system. It will simply allow for a more responsible, relaxed, and reasonable response to the questions that COVID has been posing since early March. We want nothing more than good health, both physical and emotional, of all students attending F&M this semester.
We are optimistic that the College will be flexible in responding to the needs of its students.
S. Maverick Irwin, President of the Class of 2024
Braden Muscarello, President of Brooks College House
As of Sunday evening, Dr. Alan Caniglia, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives, responded to the letter noting that the college is “continuously re-assessing how we link wastewater results to the need for quarantine and further testing” adding that “Our medical consultants have advised us that going to the dining hall to pick up grab and go meals, so long as mask-wearing and physical distance are maintained, presents minimal risk.”
“I find it important to emphasize how we need action from the College in order to enable change.” Irwin told The College Reporter after receiving the response from Dr. Caniglia.
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