Students Left Confused by the Changing Covid-19 Protocols

January 25, 2022

Rules regarding Covid-19 have been changing since the day the country went on high alert for the virus in March 2020. Covid rates on campus have jumped since the first of the year, and students are unsure about what the rules are now protocols. 

For some students, it can lead to a confusing round of tests and conflicting results. 

“When my teammate tested positive, my athletic trainer asked me if I had been vaccinated and boosted,” said junior student Brooke Burns. “Since I was and I had documentation of that, I didn’t have to go” into quarantine. 

However, then Burns took another test a few days later, and “Monday evening around 7 pm I got a call from my trainer that I tested positive. Within two hours I had to move to Holderby,” the residence hall that the university has set up for students who have positive readings. 

All of this came about because Burns, a member of the track and field team, earlier had practiced unmasked for longer than 15 minutes with a teammate who later found out that she had tested positive.  

With another test, Burns tested negative, so she then was tested again for a third time. When the results of that test also were negative, she was confirmed to have been initially a false positive, and she was released from Holderby.  

“I want to know why if I do everything right and wear my mask and get vaccinated and my booster shot, why can I still get contact traced,” said Burns. 

And Burns is not alone in her confusion. Fellow student athlete Macey Swearengin, who is a sophomore on the swim and dive team, was left confused when two of her roommates tested positive.  

“Two of the seven of my roommates tested positive,” she said, “so I was contact traced from both of them… and they said that I had to move out of my dorm room, because I was vaccinated but not boosted and it was for the safety of the other people living here as well as my roommate.” 

Swearengin moved into Holderby the night of Dec. 31. However, the next morning she was told that she would be able to move out of Holderby and back into her dorm room if she produced a negative test.  

“I got tested the following day and I tested negative so they told me I could move back to dorms,” said Swearengin. “I moved all of my stuff back to dorms… I got a text about two hours after they told me to move out and it was just kind of like hold on. I didn’t get a response until about an hour after that telling me that I had to move back into Holderby,”   

Swearengin moved back into Holderby Hall, where she remained to finish her quarantine until Jan. 5.  

Today she says she still does not understand why she was told to remain so long.  

“They said that test was the test to move out of quarantine and they said that even though we had those negative results we still had to stay until the designated day. … My five days should have ended on the 3rd, but I didn’t get out until the 5th,” said Swearengin. 

Burns and Swearengin are only two examples of confusion regarding the quarantine protocols. Tracy Smith, director of environmental health and safety, offer some clarification regarding the changes to protocol.  

“Basically,” Smith said, “if you have received doses one and two and not received a booster, and your identified as part of contact tracing as a primary contact which means you are not positive, but you were around someone who was positive, then you must go through the whole quarantine process.” 

Smith also noted a difference between quarantine and isolation. Though the CDC officially has made both five days long, compared to their original 14-day statement, they do not mean the same thing. Isolation specifically refers to those who are infected and have Covid-19. By contrast, quarantine is specific only to those who are exposed to someone else who has tested positive.  

“For example,” Smith said, “if you are positive and I am around you, (it depends) on what occurred and if we had masks on or not. Let’s say we both had no masks and were around each other closer than six feet for more than 15 minutes. You would go to isolation for five days, and I would be able to continue to work or go to class, because even though I did not have a mask on, I have had two vaccines the first and second dose, plus the booster dose.” 

Many people also question the dependability of the 15-minute antigen versus the 24- to 48-hour Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.  

“Generally speaking, if a test comes back positive, whether antigen or PCR, it is almost certain that person is positive,” Smith said, “If there are no symptoms or history of exposure, then likely that is … a false positive.  

“But again, it is extremely rare,” he said. “If you are positive on antigen and you have symptoms and a history of exposure and you are negative on PCR, we are going to treat you as positive and then likely do at least on more PCR on you two days later.” 

The tests also pick up different pieces of the virus, making the positive result show up differently on both, said Smith.  

“Your PCR test will show positivity for up to 90 days, antigen tests and rapid tests usually pick up just live virus,” he said. “You can still test positive on an antigen test for basically six to 20 days. But it is nowhere near the length of time a PCR test will pick that up. The PCR test is basically the gold standard for testing. Antigen testing is absolutely a great tool that we have, and it is like 97.2 percent accurate if you have a history of exposure, and you are symptomatic.” 

In terms of how quickly things are changing, the campus community is almost back to where it was at the beginning of the epidemic, Smith said. 

  This pandemic is confusing, he said, “because it is a very fluid situation.” Students who are feeling sick or having symptoms should not attend class and contact student affairs so they can be tested as quickly as possible, he said. Student affairs will excuse them from missing class so that they can keep themselves as well as their fellow community members safe, Smith added.  

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