CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that the student sources remained anonymous due to HIPAA. As of Sept. 25, 2021, this article has been updated to reflect the fact that sources chose to not disclose identities to The Observer for fears of judgment and privacy concerns.
Student concerns about the rise of COVID-19 cases at the Lincoln Center campus have prompted questions about Fordham’s plan for managing the surge and protecting community members.
Although 96.3% of all students are vaccinated, Fordham is still experiencing high numbers of breakthrough cases within the first few weeks of the fall semester. As of Sept. 24, Fordham has a total of 60 cases, 37 of which are at the Lincoln Center campus.
This current spike also marks the first time during the pandemic that the Lincoln Center campus has a higher number of COVID-19 cases than Rose Hill. Last semester, Rose Hill had a high of 232 cases, causing them to suspend all in-person classes and activities until the number of cases dropped below 100.
Public Safety is asking professors to create seating charts or take pictures of their classes to help them know who has been close enough to be exposed.
The suspension of in-person classes, activities and events was due to a New York state requirement prohibiting gatherings if colleges surpassed 100 cases. As of Sept. 21, there is no state-mandated threshold that could require Fordham to halt in-person operations or shift classes and activities to an online modality, according to Jenifer Campbell, dean of students at Lincoln Center.
Fordham Implements Contact Tracing Procedures
When an individual tests positive for COVID-19, Public Safety implements contact tracing protocols to determine potential exposure based on proximity. If a student was closer than six feet to the COVID-positive person for more than 15 minutes in a 24-hour period, they may have been exposed.
“We do it manually. We speak to the COVID-positive person … and then we ask them to try to recall where they’ve been the last couple of days,” Associate Vice President for Public Safety John Carroll said.
To aid in contact tracing, Public Safety is asking professors to create seating charts or take pictures of their classes to help them know who has been close enough to be exposed.
Students who have had a potential exposure can receive a PCR test for free from University Health Services (UHS).
Carroll said seating charts are important when identifying where those with vaccination exemptions were sitting because if unvaccinated students are far enough away from the infected individual, they do not have to quarantine. If a student tests positive for COVID-19, Public Safety will contact them with instructions on what to do next.
When students are potentially exposed, Public Safety asks them to get a PCR test within three to five days of exposure, though testing is not required, according to Carroll.
“We are not mandating (testing), we are not checking whether they did it because there’s no real point in doing that,” Carroll said. “The point is, if they did not do that, to take care of their own health, then where do we go from there?”
Before Sept. 20, all PCR tests had a $35 out-of-pocket charge for students, although most insurances reimburse the charge, according to Campbell. Now, students who have had a potential exposure can receive a PCR test for free from University Health Services (UHS).
Students Recount Experiences of Exposure
Due to students concerned about experiencing judgment and protecting the privacy of other individuals, all student sources in this article will remain anonymous.
One anonymous first-year student explained that when they received the call from Public Safety about being exposed to a COVID-positive person, they were not told who had tested positive. The student explained that this frustrated them as they did not know if they had interacted with the student who tested positive.
If exposed, unvaccinated individuals are not allowed to go to classes and are expected to quarantine for 10 days.
“Two people on our floor tested positive, but unfortunately we are not allowed to know who due to HIPAA violations,” the student said. “Luckily we didn’t have class with these people and never had contact with them and my roommate and I both tested negative with PCR tests, so we’re all safe.”
The student also added that the Office of Residential Life (ResLife) student staff members on their floor were not aware of the positive COVID-19 cases.
There are different procedures for those who have been exposed, depending on whether or not they have been vaccinated. Because the majority of Fordham students are vaccinated, most are encouraged to continue going to classes after potential exposure, which students often follow due to strict attendance policies.
If exposed, unvaccinated individuals are not allowed to go to classes and are expected to quarantine for 10 days.
One anonymous sophomore explained that they continued to go to class after being alerted of their possible exposure because Fordham allowed it. They were nervous about accruing absences.
Since social distancing is no longer enforced in campus buildings, “having students with confirmed exposures/waiting for test results continue to go to class and around campus freely seems incredible(ly) irresponsible,” the student said.
Public Safety did not reach out to the student until a week after their exposure.
The anonymous sophomore said they were notified of a potential exposure less than 24 hours after their class.
“To me, that says that whichever student it was was waiting for test results and went to class anyway, because PCR results typically don’t come in that quickly as far as I’m aware,” the student said.
Due to the unavailability of tests on the day they went to get tested, the student said they had to go off-campus to get their test. A second anonymous sophomore also stated that they had to go off-campus for a test because Fordham had no more available appointments.
If a student tests positive, they will be required to isolate for 10 days.
Students who were potentially exposed to a COVID-positive person in class are normally contacted by Public Safety. A third anonymous sophomore shared that that was not the case for them in their introduction to Mandarin class.
“The way I found out about the person testing positive was actually through my teacher, not Public Safety,” they said.
The student added that their professor provided them with resources for testing and informed their class that unless Public Safety reached out, there was no need to worry. The professor encouraged students to get a PCR test.
“I was very lucky to be able to go home to quarantine.”anonymous, Covid-19 positive junior
Public Safety did not reach out to the student until a week after their exposure. The student was required to get tested and was told they were not allowed to eat or remove their mask in public areas around campus unless they were in their dorm room.
“If I had ended up being positive with COVID-19, it probably wouldn’t have been good since they did wait a week to call me and tell me ‘hey maybe you should get tested with the school,’” they said.
Testing Positive and the Repercussions
An anonymous junior shared their experience after they and three of their suitemates received positive COVID-19 results.
“It’s hard enough to process that you have COVID, but having to sit down and be like ‘Yeah so a few of us have this and none of us know who gave it to who or where we got it’ was just so strange,” they said. “I wasn’t angry — none of us were. We all just wanted to support each other.”
If a student tests positive, they will be required to isolate for 10 days. The location of their quarantine will vary depending on whether the student is a commuter or resident.
“There are many different ways to isolate — people can isolate in their homes if that is what they choose to do, and many commuters will probably do that because they commute anyway,” Carroll said. “They may need us to even isolate them here even though they are commuters. Everybody is different.”
The anonymous junior was allowed the option to quarantine at home given that they lived within the tri-state area. ResLife remained in touch with the student to develop a plan for their quarantine period.
“They spoke with me about the necessary steps to take back home, ensured I had my own room, access to a bathroom just for myself, etc. I was very lucky to be able to go home to quarantine,” the junior said.
Those who have been exposed are struggling to understand the next steps to take.
An anonymous sophomore who went into quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 stated that they were given instructions to take as much food as they had in their dorm since they did not have a meal plan and would not be provided free meals by the school. On a daily basis, students without meal plans can pay $40 to receive one hot meal and one large order of snacks, according to University Dining Liaison Deming Yaun.
Once in quarantine, they were able to order groceries that ResLife would deliver to their door. The student said the only things provided for them in quarantine were sheets and trash bags.
As students are testing positive, those who have been exposed are struggling to understand the next steps to take.
The student said UHS did not seem concerned that they had not been informed of their exposure until a week later.
One anonymous junior shared that they contacted UHS after experiencing symptoms, but they did not hear back until much later.
“Health services was the last person to reach out to me which I found odd. I called them first and they told me to go to my room and sit and wait for further instructions,” the student said.
The student said UHS did not seem concerned that they had not been informed of their exposure until a week later and told them to get tested at any time, according to the student.
The anonymous junior who quarantined off-campus reflected on the policies and procedures put in place last year in comparison to the current requirements for COVID-19 testing.
“I wish Fordham would bring back intermittent testing,” they said. “I would not have known I had COVID if I hadn’t actively looked to get treatment when I was sick.”
Conflicting policies for getting tested, questions about quarantining and a general lack of communication from the administration have continued to confuse Lincoln Center students. As cases rise, students remain worried and wonder if Fordham will adapt its policies to mitigate the infection rate.
Joe Kottke and Chloe Zelch contributed additional reporting to this story.
Allie Stofer (she/her), FCLC ’23, is the editor-in-chief at The Observer. She is a political science major, with a double minor in history and women, gender and sexuality studies. Previously, she has worked as a news editor. When she is not editing articles, she can be found embroidering and trying new restaurants.
Maryam Beshara (she/her), FCLC ’24, is a news editor at The Observer. She is planning on double-majoring in political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies with a potential minor in philosophy. When she is not found, it is because she is missing. In her free time, Maryam loves listening to music and hopes the sun will show (her) the path.
Maddie Sandholm (she/her), FCLC ’23, is the managing editor at The Observer. She is a new media and digital design and visual arts double major. If she's not in The Observer office, you might find her drawing, playing guitar or playing Stardew Valley with her sisters. Previously, she worked as a layout editor.
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