Saint Anselm College’s COVID-19 prevention efforts: more reactive than proactive

The college’s COVID-19 policies have proven to be effective and quick when reacting to an outbreak. However, proactive efforts to prevent the coronavirus from making its way onto campus have not been as effective as the college desires.

As the average daily number of new cases in New Hampshire continues to rise, more than doubling now, from 40 new cases a day to 100 new cases a day, worries stir on campus over the college’s COVID-19 response. 

With COVID-19 cases rising in New Hampshire as well as nationally, the second semester will provide a new set of challenges for the college. The Hilltopper spoke with some of the students who have spent time in isolation housing as well as Director of Health Services Maura Marshall to better understand how these circumstances will impact the remainder of the year.

Saint Anselm College has seen a relatively low number of COVID-19 cases compared to other schools in the area such as the University of New Hampshire. Marshall attributes the low transmission rate across campus to the college’s ability to quickly find and isolate outbreaks on campus.

“It has to do with how quickly we can identify the cases,” said Marshall. “I think being from a small campus . . . we can get to the students a lot quicker.”

Students that have been in isolation housing agree with Marshall’s sentiment that the college has been quick with placing students in isolation once they have tested positive.

One student that tested positive said, “I got a call from Maura an hour after my [positive COVID] test. Then she told me I tested positive and she told me to pack my stuff.”

Most students in isolation housing were placed in Collins house, across the street from the college. Students that were in Collins say that they were provided adequate provisions, such as personal protection equipment (hand sanitizer, masks, and disinfectant wipes).

“Those big air loud purifier machines, every floor had one of those. Every floor had hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipe dispensers,” said one student. “Every floor had their own supplies basically.”

Students that were placed in Collins house were given some guidance on what to do in the case of a severe incident. One student recalled a particularly stressful moment in isolation.

“One night, one kid had really bad symptoms, and he was feeling really bad. And we were like, at what point [do we call 911]?” said one student. Students were given guidance in a pamphlet, but unsurprisingly, it was discarded by most students. 

“I’m pretty sure the paper said something, but like you know, in the moment, you’re not gonna like [remember],” they said.

That student has since recovered, but students still say it is unclear why more was not done to inform students about how to respond to medical emergencies while in Collins.

Contact tracing and quarantine for close contacts

The Hilltopper spoke with some students who went out of their own way to request a test out of their own moral responsibility.

“I went out with my friend, and then my friend’s roommate tested positive. So then me and the kid I was with, who hung out with him, went to health services and requested a test.”

Students that do not voluntarily request tests have to be tracked down through contact tracing. The State of New Hampshire leads the contact tracing effort throughout the state, including all colleges in New Hampshire.

“The state is in charge of contact tracing, so as soon as a student tests positive, we have to report that to the state,” said Marshall. “We have to identify close contacts, the state does this, but I help them a little bit . . . A close contact is defined as anyone that you’ve been in contact with less than six feet for more than ten minutes in the last 48 hours.” 

Close contacts are placed in quarantine for 14 days, either in their room or another residence hall. 

“They sent me to Holy Cross and Holy Cross has a pod that’s completely empty that they save for people that are close contacts. I would get tested like every four days,” said one student who was placed in quarantine and later tested positive. 

In this specific instance of quarantine, The Hilltopper was told that close contacts were not completely isolated from each other. 

The close contacts that were placed in Holy Cross had individual rooms, but still shared a kitchen and bathroom, presenting the possibility for transmission among the close contacts if one did carry COVID-19. 

The student that tested positive in Holy Cross said that they were the only one to test positive in that specific quarantine. 

“The rest of the pod, they were getting tested after me, none of them tested positive . . . I was the only one that tested positive. I told them to stay away since I figured I had it,” they said. 

Only slightly harsher policies

After the recent spike in cases, the college has had to clamp down harder on off-campus travel. A little more than a week ago, President Favazza sent a stern letter reminding students to not go off-campus, especially if going to more high-risk areas such as bars. The most notable part of the letter was the announcement that there will now be gatekeepers at all entrances and exits.

“Starting today, gatekeepers will be taking down the names of all students who leave campus and the time of their departure. They also will be time-stamping the time students return to campus,” said Favazza in the letter.

While the letter suggested that gatekeepers will always be present, they are normally only there during the evening on Thursday through Sunday, the days when most off-campus travel happens.

Additionally, the gatekeepers’ exact time schedules have been observed to be inconsistent, sometimes staying until midnight, and other times, leaving their post by 10:00 pm. 

The college has emphasized they want to avoid draconian-like policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The gatekeeper’s schedule reflects the college’s hesitance to establish stricter and harsher policies on campus. 

“Little ticking time-bombs”

The semester is ending which means around 2,000 students will be going home for winter break. This is happening as COVID-19 cases are rapidly surging in New Hampshire. Gov. Sununu has estimated that by the end of November, new COVID-19 cases will reach 1,000 per day. Only a small number of colleges and universities are requiring students to test negative for COVID-19 prior to their departure. 

Saint Anselm College is not one of these institutions requiring exit tests. 

The college has also not encouraged students to take exit tests before leaving. The most recent data regarding COVID-19 sent out to students reveals that as of November 12th, 81 students are currently either in quarantine or isolation. 

In an interview from The New York Times, A. David Paltiel, a professor of health policy and management at the Yale School of Public Health, said “there’s a responsibility not to unleash little ticking time bombs.”

Without mandatory exit testing, or even encouraged exit testing, there is a real possibility of students carrying COVID-19 back home. In the most recent COVID-19 health update from Marshall, the college has opted to ask students themselves to plan ahead with their families for when they return home.

In a recent email from Marshall, she told students, “If you foolishly decide to take a risk this weekend, please have a conversation about a plan and arrangements with your family.” 

Meghan Query contributed to this story

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