Three weeks ago, a member of our off-campus house tested positive for COVID-19. We have described the timeline of events that have occurred since that positive test to draw attention to the off-campus quarantine experience. We understand why the college is operating under the mindset of “better be safe than sorry,” because it is better to be safe about COVID-19. Being off-campus students with fewer resources, however, has made this process especially difficult. As soon as that test returned positive, we felt like we were seen as a case number rather than individual people.
Sept. 7 – Michaela Gibbons ‘22 tests negative.
Sept. 8 – Neil Patel ‘22 tests positive. We have not had known contact with anyone that has tested positive. It is surprising that he is the one in the house to test positive because he spends the least amount of time outside; the only time he leaves the house is to skateboard around town with a mask. It would be more likely for Chloe Craig ‘22 to test positive after commuting to campus for her labs, or even Michaela, who frequently shops.
Sept. 9 – Chloe tests negative. We learn about Neil’s positive test and begin quarantining within the house immediately. There is no contact tracing required outside of the house. Our fourth housemate leaves to quarantine at home, thus has not been involved in writing this article.
A nurse from the Center for Student Health and Well-Being calls us for contact tracing and asks to be put on speakerphone for Chloe and Michaela to gather around. It is towards the end of the call that she informs us we should all be isolating from each other. This policy will be difficult for us to follow given our communal living spaces, especially considering that the college does not provide isolation rooms to off-campus students. The nurse tells us that since we will continue to live with Neil, our 14-day quarantine does not officially begin until his isolation ends in 10 days. This gives us a total quarantine time of 24 days. The nurse also tells us that if we want to reduce our 24-day quarantine time, we will have to find another residence to not be in contact with Neil.
We feel that it is inequitable to assume that students have other residencies nearby and that they can risk the health and safety of their families. The same nurse then contacts us individually to answer personal medical questions. By that afternoon, a different nurse visits our house and provides us with extra masks and paperwork to record our temperatures. We learn that we will not be able to receive food from Dining Services, unless a friend is willing to pick up our CatCards, order us food, and deliver it—a thirty-minute time commitment at minimum.
Sept. 10 – Michaela gets retested because of her exposure to Neil. She then calls Richard Terry from Dining Services and explains that we are unable to use our meal swipes during our time in quarantine since our access to on-campus dining services is entirely dependent on our friends’ ability to deliver it to us. He guarantees us a full refund on the meals we will be missing. We feel that this is the most humanizing conversation we have experienced thus far.
Sept. 11 – Michaela’s test comes back negative, which is seemingly improbable considering the amount of time she spends with Neil. We then learn through friends that there is at least one other student on campus who has received a false positive. We start to think that this could be the case with Neil as well.
Sept. 12 – Chloe and Neil get retested at CVS.
Sept. 14 – Their tests come back negative. Dr. Lutz informs Neil that since he was positive, the college will not test him again until November because PCR tests are “so sensitive” that his tests would continue to be positive. Yet Neil has just tested negative, contradicting this statement, and we begin to worry about the test-less months to come. We inform Dr. Lutz about Chloe’s and Neil’s negative results, but he maintains his earlier decision about keeping us in quarantine until October 2.
Dr. Lutz informs us that the lab that Davidson College uses for their tests has only a 1% false positivity rate, but with 1,786 tests currently being administered to students per week (please note that this number has been fluctuating), up to 18 students could be receiving false-positive test results per week. Since Davidson is not retesting students with positive results, there is currently no way to verify whether a positive result is accurate. We ask if the college can retest Neil to further verify our suspicions about a false-positive result, but our request is declined.
Because COVID-19 testing at CVS reports directly to the Mecklenburg County Health Department, we are able to speak to a health department representative, who informs us that there is no state protocol for false-positive tests. Both this representative and one from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) assure us that an antibody test will confirm whether or not Neil ever contracted COVID-19.
Sept. 17 – Chloe and Michaela take at-home COVID tests provided by the college, despite being told earlier that we would still report to Baker Sports Complex for our weekly testing. A nurse comes to pick up and mail the tests to a lab in Alabama.
Sept. 18 – Neil’s 10-day isolation ends, and he gets tested for antibodies. Even with a negative antibody test, however, Davidson College may still want us to stay away from campus.
Sept. 19 – Chloe and Michaela’s tests come back negative.
Sept. 21 – Neil’s antibody test comes back negative, showing that he has not developed antibodies for COVID-19.
Sept. 22 – We call Dr. Lutz and inform him of Neil’s negative antibody test. Dr. Lutz does not change our quarantine timeline since antibodies sometimes do not develop until up to three weeks after an active infection, and he tells us that there is not enough research available about the accuracy of antibody tests. We then express concerns that Neil will not be retested until November. We request that he be tested weekly in the case that he did have a false positive test. Dr. Lutz tells us that he does not believe it to be an “appropriate use of resources,” but he agrees to re-enter Neil into the testing pool.
We understand that the college’s protocols are put into place for the safety of the student body, faculty and staff, and town community as a whole, and we appreciate the efforts that Davidson is making toward our physical wellbeing. In most cases, a positive test represents a true positive result, but the possibility of a false positive does not seem to have a place within the current protocol. One way to help students as individuals is to treat positive test cases on an individual basis. In situations such as ours, where there is reason to believe that Neil received a false positive, we believe it would be beneficial for the college to take extra care and pay close attention to the possibility of a false positive test.