Updated: Oct 15, 2020
Ryan Stanley • Staff Writer
With an increasing number of COVID-19 cases on campus, more students have found themselves locked in apartments or dorm rooms. Meals are delivered and students are checked on almost daily, but when these same students ask questions, they are rarely provided with answers.
Freshman Taylor Kaiser, who lives in Ornelas Hall, tested negative for COVID-19 and showed no symptoms but still had to quarantine, similar to others. Student information says exposure to someone who tested positive results in mandatory quarantine.
However, Kaiser remains unsure of why she has to quarantine, as she was never provided an answer even when she asked.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prevents the release of names of potential and/or positive COVID-19 cases, but it doesn’t stop the school from informing students if they came in contact with only a symptomatic case or a positive individual.
“We kept getting calls asking if we’re OK or if we have any questions, so I asked ‘Why do we have to quarantine if we’re negative?’” Kaiser said. “[The staffer] said ‘I’ll get back to you on that’ and then he never called back.”
Those in quarantine were handed a small document that provides COVID-19 information and a list of contact information, but when University Pines resident and freshman Lydia Stambaugh called the listed COVID exposure hotline, answers were again unclear.
“The lady we called, she didn’t really know, she told me to call again the next day,” Stambaugh said. “I called to ask more about quarantine and she’s like ‘I don’t really have a lot of information on that, you’re going to have to call again on Monday.’”
Unlike the student information site that says quarantine results from exposure to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, the paper differs by adding contact with a symptomatic person as another reason. For University Pines resident and freshman Haya Rafiqi and her roommates, it was the paper that told them to quarantine, no one officially called.
“They never specified or followed up,” Rafiqi said. “No one ever talked to us about it.”
Services such as trash and laundry are also unclear for quarantining students, who were told to leave trash outside their doors. However, trash is continuously not picked up while laundry services must be arranged separately.
“We took out our trash the other day because it was getting really bad and no one said anything about helping us,” Kaiser said. “So we took it out and we saw one of the RA’s and he helped us. Then I guess he told the other RA’s and they said ‘Okay we’re going to have to watch over you guys because you’re leaving.’ So they’re watching the cameras now.”
In spite of these complaints, first-year student and University Pines resident Nathan DiClaudio, who tested positive for COVID-19, has very few. His main concern lies with the uncertainty of leaving for a hotel or not.
“The only thing I’m concerned about is having to head out to a hotel at the drop of a hat if need be,” DiClaudio said. “They weren’t exactly like ‘you have to head out’ or ‘you have to stay’ so I’m still waiting on that update.”
As of Sept. 26, there were 96 confirmed COVID-19 cases, but after peaking on Sept. 12, the number of new cases (the positivity rate) have declined. The positivity rate, however, does not indicate an overall decline in cases, just that fewer cases are being found each week, but still increasing the total number.
Quarantining students have helped this number decrease, but it has come at a cost with classes. Kaiser, who is a nursing student, has struggled to stay on pace while in quarantine.
“I’ve had to push a bunch of tests and quizzes back and I’ve been behind on notes,” Kaiser said. “Mostly the tests and quizzes are the part where they need you to come in.”
When it comes to meals, Sodexo, the food service provider responsible for food at UT Tyler, also has to make meals for those in quarantine. From there, it is up to the RA’s or apartment staff to deliver meals. Kaiser said the food deliveries can sometimes be an inconvenience, and breakfast is not provided.
“They only bring lunch and dinner,” Kaiser said. “I know they try to make it at the same time, but I was sleeping. I probably took a nap or something and they knocked on my door until I answered.”
Information is available to students, such as reasons for quarantining, length of quarantine, and numbers to call, but not all questions can be answered online. Three students: Kaiser, Stambaugh, and Rafiqi’s roommate have called the hotlines. None have received answers.
“Just answer the questions we have,” Kaiser said.
We have reached out to Lucas Roebuck, Chief Communications Officer for UT Tyler for comment. He has not responded.
For more information on the progress and data surrounding the SARS-CoV-2 at UT Tyler, visit https://www.uttyler.edu/coronavirus/student-information/
This story was updated on Thursday, Oct. 15 to include clarifying information about the declining positivity rate's relationship to still-higher cases and the above link, as well.