Continuing my reflections on what it has been like here in the first quarter of the semester, I wanted to reflect some today on the cases and quarantines.
We have a real issue with the number of cases and quarantines, and that has mostly to do with HIPAA. We are not allowed to ask about private medical information, and the college is not allowed to publish names of those who have tested positive. We have a general requirement on campus that is as follows:
Employees are expected to immediately notify their supervisor and the Department of Human Resources. Supervisors are expected to report on behalf of employees if the employee is not able to self-report. Employees should contact the Department of Human Resources once physically able to do so. Employees may be eligible to use COVID-19 leave if they meet certain federal requirements. Employees who have tested positive may return to work as recommended by their health care provider, normally after a 14-day isolation period. Supervisors will be responsible for assistance with contact tracing. This is critical to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Supervisors will be expected to retrieve the employee’s daily log of appointments with the help of Technology Services and report the information to the Department of Human Resources.
Students are expected to report positive tests to the Student Services Department. The Student Services Department will work with the student to develop contact tracing in the event the student was on a College campus while COVID-19 positive. Students who have tested positive may return to F2F classes as recommended by their health care provider, normally after a 14-day isolation period. All medical information collected will be held in strict confidence in accordance with legal requirements.
Name/severity of conditions will not be identified in any notification the College is required to release. The Department of Human Resources will be responsible for notifying employees of information; Student Services will be responsible for notifying students of COVID-19 positive contacts.
That is a very long set of rules on what must be done. However, you will note that the first sentence of each of the first two paragraphs includes the word “expected.” That is what worries me.
Here is what I know:
- I have had two cases of students who have been quarantined in my hybrid courses from exposure to someone who was positive. Both are students who self-reported to me that this was the case, and neither had actually been in class since they were exposed.
- I have two students who were reported to me as being quarantined. The softball team was exposed with at least one positive COVID-19 case on the team. They are all quarantined. I have two softball players in my online classes, and so I was not exposed to them.
- There have officially been 17 positive COVID-19 cases reported on all campuses, which is 13 students and 4 faculty/staff
That’s the extent of what I know. And my worry goes back to the question of “expected.” I expect that our case count on my community college should be low. The majority of our students are commuter students. We have a small dorm population (under 300 for a campus of about 6000 students), and so there is less opportunity for spread from a dorm-living situation as there is at a lot of 4-year universities. So, the majority of what would be here would be community spread. And, if everyone is wearing their mask and behaving responsibly, then there should not be that much spread.
However, without widespread testing and with only an “expectation” that people report, I don’t really have any idea what is going on. I assume that we are doing relatively well, and our numbers are certainly low. In fact, I sincerely hope that we stay very low in cases. I just worry if we are getting the whole picture.
This is not unique to my college at all. It is the same thing I worry about going out in public anywhere that we go. I have two sons who are also going to my community college, and so realistically, there are three of us scattered throughout college buildings and classrooms who could be exposed. One of my sons had his class meet virtually last week because the professor had positive cases in the class, but I don’t know when those cases were and if my son was exposed. Both of my daughters are currently in online schooling, but we are considering sending the youngest back to in-person school, as the online schooling is really rough on all of us. That will be one more exposure vector to worry about. And, for each of us, there’s the question of bringing it back to a 6-person household.
(And, as an aside, yes, we had an encounter at a local store last week where there was a family of five where none were wearing masks in a store where masks are required. Not only were they not asked to leave or wear a mask, but the young kids were running up and down aisles while the husband was calling people who showed displeasure at their behavior “sheep” for wearing masks. He was very obviously looking for a confrontation, and we quickly wrapped our shopping up and got out of there.)
So, what I can say is that I am worried. I’m worried that there are more cases than reported, both at the college and in the larger community, because we don’t have widespread testing. I am worried that, despite everything we are doing to try and stay safe, simply the fact that a number of us are going out of the house and into public regularly means that we are going to bring it home.
But what I really worry about is the problem of how hard it is to prove a negative. Every time I think about it, I can see ways I could be exposed. It is hard to prove safety from exposure. It is hard to prove that everyone around me has been trying to be as safe and protected as I have been. It is hard to know what level of risk I’m at on a day-to-day basis.
I hope that there are only 17 cases at the community college where I work, and I hope that everything I am doing is keeping me and my family safe. But I don’t know. To echo how I ended my last post, it is just one more thing…
We just finished up Week 4 of the semester, and I wanted to put in a couple of thoughts on how it has gone. I’m going to break this up into a number of posts, just so that this is not just one really long post.
Today’s topic is masks.
Yes, we have a mask wearing requirement at my community college. I am fully in support of that policy, and I have not had any people in my classes who have been openly defiant or confrontational about masks. However, that does not mean this has all been easy.
I am a very hands-off professor when it comes to what students can and cannot do in the classroom. I have traditionally allowed all levels of eating and drinking, allowed students to come and go as they choose, had a minimal attendance policy, and largely allowed them unlimited access to technology during class.
The only time that I am not very lenient is if whatever the student is doing is noticeably distracting others who are trying to learn. This most often comes up with regard to cell phones or laptops, but it has also come up with food before – there are just some foods that are inherently distracting.
Now, with masks, it has become something that I have to deal with every day. The campus has a clear mask policy, as in they are required at all times on campus. From what I have seen, most students (and those who enforce it) don’t apply that much to students walking around outside, but it is certainly to apply to those in class.
Here is what our policy says:
“To avoid confusion and promote consistency, … masks (face coverings) are a requirement for presence anywhere on … campuses.”
Everything beyond that is up to the instructor in the classroom. So, for someone who is generally hands-off, I am the one who has to monitor what face coverings are being worn and whether they are being worn properly. Again, this has not been a problem in any of my classes so far, but it is something that I worry about. In other words, it ends up being that one more thing to think about each time I’m in class.
As of this week, we have also been told that our failure to ensure that masks are being worn and being worn correctly will result in us being written up. So, it is not just my responsibility to monitor, but it is also my responsibility to enforce. Again, it is not that I do not agree and not that I personally would feel a lot safer if everyone is wearing masks correctly in a classroom with relatively poor ventilation that we all sit in for 75 minutes at a time. It is more that this becomes just that one more thing.
We are already navigating a new semester, a new set of students, new expectations on social distancing, last minute changes to instruction, teaching with both social distancing and masks (I really don’t mind teaching in a mask, but that’s for a later post), and just the general atmosphere of anxiety and fear. To add to that the need to enforce mask requirements among my students is just another thing to add.
And, yes, I know this probably seems quite minor, and again it has not been a major issue. It just is one more thing. And this is a semester of a lot of one more things …
- Thoughts on Teaching – Teaching in a Pandemic – Cases and Quarantines – 09/20/2020
- Thoughts on Teaching – Teaching in a Pandemic – Mask Requirements? – 09/19/2020
- Thoughts on Teaching – Teaching in a Pandemic – Campus Guidelines – 08/28/2020
- Thoughts on Teaching – First Week Craziness – 08/27/2020
- Thoughts on Teaching – Teaching in a Pandemic – Fall Semester (?) – 8/21/2020