Although the start of in-person classes has brought excitement and enthusiasm to the Fordham community, increased risk of contracting the coronavirus has been a point of concern. Within the first few weeks of the fall semester, Fordham’s COVID-19 cases have remained low. The administration reported only 33 positive cases between Sept. 20 and Oct. 3. However, not everyone has had a sound experience with Public Safety’s contact tracing.
The guidelines put forward by the university in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the virus state, “Symptomatic students, and students who are in close contact with a COVID-positive individual, will be tested on campus.” These guidelines also explain that those presumed to be exposed to COVID-19 should get tested within three to five days of exposure.
Students Left in the Dark
Despite Public Safety’s efforts to communicate clearly about possible exposures, many remain unsure of Fordham’s ability to efficiently notify students.
“I think it would have been better if we were notified immediately, rather than four days after the student came back COVID-positive.”Sophia Shahlaei, FCLC ’24
Juliana Castello, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’24, said, “I feel confused as to why my professor emailed us that there was a COVID-19 case in our class instead of Public Safety, who only notified my professor.”
Sophia Shahlaei, FCLC ’24, also had someone test positive in one of her classes, but she was notified four days after the case was confirmed.
“I think it would have been better if we were notified immediately, rather than four days after the student came back COVID-positive,” Shahlaei said. Feeling overwhelmed by Fordham’s late notice, she went to University Health Services (UHS) in order to get tested but was let down again.
“Why is the university service harder to talk to than LabQ, an outside service?”Sophia Shahlaei
“I got into an argument with Health Services as they told me that I would not be able to get tested today, despite the fact that I was exposed due to a student in my class,” Shahlaei said. “They also told me I had to pay $35, which was ridiculous.” Fordham started offering free PCR tests on Sept. 20, six days after Shahlaei’s interaction with UHS.
Unable to get tested for free at UHS, she looked toward LabQ, a private company that operates testing vans throughout the city.
“Why is the university service harder to talk to than LabQ, an outside service?” she asked.
Students’ varied experiences reflect inconsistencies in Fordham’s contact tracing protocols.
Shahlaei’s experience is not unique. Abigail Ericsson, FCLC ’24, also had a student in her class test positive.
“The email I received said that we had to get COVID tested five days after we were exposed, and that means we only had one day to get tested,” Ericsson said. “I felt a lot of pressure as I had to get this done immediately.”
Stressed from the limited time to get tested, Ericsson went to UHS, which she described as “a really easy process.”
“I called, explained my situation and was able to get tested immediately,” she said. Regarding Fordham’s fast and effective response, Ericsson stated, “I felt that Fordham was really on top of their COVID testing.”
When she asked about paying for the test, Ericsson was given the option between receiving a PCR test for free or a rapid test for $35. PCR tests have been proven to be more accurate but take longer to process compared to a rapid test.
Students’ varied experiences reflect inconsistencies in Fordham’s contact tracing protocols. While classroom exposure forced Shahlaei and Ericsson to contact UHS, only Ericsson was given the proper testing information and availability. They were both notified four days after students in their classes tested positive for COVID-19, leaving them with just one day to get tested.
A Matter of Response
John Carroll, associate vice president of Fordham Public Safety, said that “some of the positives” earlier in September “were in so many classes” that there were difficulties with contact tracing. Carroll explained that Public Safety reaches out to COVID-19-positive community members to figure out where they’ve been and with whom they have had close contact over a 24-hour period.
Public Safety attempts to reach students who have tested positive by text message or voicemail, but at times have failed to receive responses.
According to Carroll, the volume of infected individuals in the beginning of the semester coincided with the fact that not everyone who was notified shared their contacts, creating holes in the contact tracing process. Public Safety attempts to reach students who have tested positive by text message or voicemail, but at times have failed to receive responses.
Carroll also explained that figuring out whom to notify in a particular class has been difficult, with different class sizes and a lack of assigned seating adding to the challenge. “Our job is to get the people that were near (the infected person), and if we don’t have a seating chart then we have to reach out to the whole class.”
Carroll said that earlier instances of exposed classes not being contacted were “an aberration.”
As COVID-19 cases continue to be monitored on campus, the university has reiterated its commitment to maintaining the community’s health. “The most important thing is that we make sure that everybody in our community stays safe at all times,” Carroll stated, “and that the way to do this is with aggressive contact tracing.”
Under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, it is recommended that public schools and institutions of higher education implement immediate and swift notification and management of COVID-19 exposure. Students have claimed the delays and miscommunication from Public Safety to be the primary cause of their frustration surrounding COVID-19 protocol on campus. These varied experiences with Public Safety’s contact tracing represent the dangers that come with shortcomings in communication.
Contact tracing requires reaching out to and questioning COVID-19-positive individuals and notifying others about exposure. This necessitates an informative dialogue between infected students, exposed community members and Public Safety.