Testing delays prompt one-day quarantine extension

by Sarah Palmer | 1/25/21 2:15am

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by Julia Levine / The Dartmouth Staff

Delays in COVID-19 test results have meant that students who expected to complete their eight-day arrival quarantine on Sunday afternoon will have to hunker down until at least Monday. 

The delay in releasing students from quarantine is the first hiccup in an otherwise smooth arrival quarantine period that has seen low COVID-19 positivity rates. As of Jan. 22, the College’s COVID-19 dashboard has reported 12 active student cases. 

This term, students arrived on either Jan. 16 or 17 and entered into a quarantine period similar to that of fall term, though with slightly looser rules. For example, students could go on masked walks with others outside.

Students in quarantine took their third arrival tests on Saturday and Sunday. As of Saturday, College spokesperson Diana Lawrence wrote that the quarantine period was “uneventful,” and on-campus testing had proceeded “relatively smoothly,” with most results returning within a 24-hour window.

On Sunday, however, Health Service director Mark Reed sent an email to on-campus students stating that there had been “a delay in test results reporting from the testing vendor.”

“Although we were planning to roll out the first phase of arrival quarantine releases this afternoon, we won't be able to do so,” Reed wrote. “… We will be back in touch tomorrow as soon as we can to release those with confirmed negative results.”

Lawrence added on Sunday that the College does not yet know whether the delay will affect only those who moved in on Jan. 16 — whose eight-day quarantine should have ended on Sunday — or also students who moved in on Jan. 17. She added that they “hope results processing will catch up” by Monday.

The announcement was met with mixed student reactions. Lauren Liu ’24, who moved into campus on Jan. 16, noted that the change “didn’t feel very significant because it’s only supposed to be like 24 hours.”

“I guess I haven’t really thought that much about it,” Liu said.

Helena Hemberger ’21, who arrived on campus a day later than Liu, said that she “got stressed” reading the title of the email announcement — “Important Quarantine Update” — but realized it may not affect her. She added that she was “bummed,” but said “it could have been a lot worse” given the email subject line. 

“I’m tired of quarantine — I’m tired of only being able to see my friends on walks,” Hemberger said. “I was really looking forward to being able to hang out with some of them in person inside, but I guess I’m not too worried because I know it will just be a delay of a day or two.”

Students who chose to live on campus entered arrival quarantine having already taken pre-arrival tests. Pre-arrival positivity rates increased from 0.31% in the fall to 1.41% in the winter, reflecting rising COVID-19 rates across the country and the advent of a more contagious variant.

In response to rising COVID-19 cases nationwide, Provost Joseph Helble sent out an email to the Dartmouth community on Jan. 13 stating that “the plan for winter term operations may soon require the implementation of more restrictive conditions than [the College] had initially anticipated.” However, according to Helble’s Jan. 21 “Community Conversations” broadcast, arrival had been “uneventful,” and thus he did not foresee imminent changes to the original winter operating plan.

Students quarantining this term were allowed slightly more freedom than in the fall, when quarantine lasted 14 days, students could only engage in individual outdoor exercise and the Hinman Mail Center and the College’s controlled storage facilities were available after around 4 to 5 days, depending on a student’s arrival day. This winter, following changes to New Hampshire travel guidelines that adjusted the length of mandated quarantine, Dartmouth shortened the quarantine period to eight days. Students could also access Hinman and controlled storage and venture outdoors with one other student after release into the second phase of quarantine, after only 24 to 48 hours. 

“This month, following the updated guidance of our experts, we felt we could offer this given that there are fewer people on campus and increased frequency of testing throughout the term,” Lawrence wrote.

Although Dartmouth has continued to emphasize student connectedness, Daniel Westphal ’23 noted that winter move-in felt “colder” and “lonelier,” than pre-pandemic move-in.

Some students have also faced challenges due to the last-minute change in the move-in date for winter term.  

While Catriona Farquharson ’23, an international student from Canada, said she “was lucky [she] had time to do work in advance,” traveling took up “most of the day on Saturday,” and getting her belongings from controlled storage was also time-consuming.

“Right now, it's stressful that I’m trying to keep up with classes when I also spent multiple hours traveling and moving boxes,” she said. “… It took most of the day to get things to my room and then unpack, and I’m still unpacking.”

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