My demands from quarantine

Heather Gast is the Editor-in-Chief of the Newswire. She is a Philosophy,
Politics and the Public major from Cincinnati, Ohio.

The writer’s views are
their own. This piece is
not representative of the
views of the paper or staff.

Dear Xavier,

I sit here, quarantined, as I wait for COVID-19 test results, appalled by our university.

As the Editor-in-Chief of the student paper, I am one of the most-informed students regarding Xavier’s COVID-19 policies. The university has touted the “Testing, Treatment, Tracing” contact tracing approach that they created with the help of TriHealth, but there is a key betrayal in their method: The university does not provide any access to COVID-19 tests for the potential hundreds of asymptomatic carriers in our community.

After experiencing some admittedly slight symptoms of COVID-19, I began looking for places to get a COVID-19 test around Cincinnati. I have a chronic underlying condition affecting my lungs so I am understandably jumpy about the virus.

Right off the bat, most testing sites in the area require a referral. I still have to buy textbooks this semester, so I looked for any way to avoid a copay for a screening and referral from my primary care provider. 

As I combed through provider’s websites to set up an appointment without a referral, each location was booked out for days, sometimes weeks, or only had times available during my classes. Having to devote hours to finding a provider and appointment is a hassle, but I can’t imagine what this would be like for a first-year who is new to Cincinnati, still adjusting to their new life on campus or for any student who doesn’t have a car.

I called the Health United Building (the HUB) as a last ditch attempt before looking for tests outside of Cincinnati. The HUB would only see me or provide testing because of my underlying health condition. 

When the contact tracer, a volunteer Xavier staff member, came in to ensure I would be able to quarantine and address any concerns, I was told to actively discourage any students who wanted to get a COVID-19 test at the HUB if they hadn’t knowingly been in contact with someone who tested positive for the virus or weren’t experiencing symptoms. That even if having the test would give them “peace of mind” concerning the deadly virus that spreads rapidly in college settings, the HUB was trying to limit the number of tests they send so there can be a quick turnaround for lab results.

As we start this new month, there is no standard for the hundreds of universities across the nation who have opened their arms back up to students. I understand that these are unprecedented times. 

But there are studies by public health experts and epidemiologists encouraging even up to twice a week testing for any students, staff or faculty who are regularly on campus. Per reporting by ProPublica, more than 40% of COVID-19 carriers could be asymptomatic, and this number only goes up in populations of young people.

The statistics displayed on Xavier’s COVID-19 Dashboard is guaranteed to be only a fraction of how many active cases there are in the community. 

We can look at the mere 28 active cases listed and give a sigh of relief that we’re not Miami University or University of Dayton, who have over 500 and 700 active cases, respectively, but this is a false sense of security. Colleges like Miami or University of Dayton have soaring cases when they’re the ones testing while we’re walking blind.

Maybe I was misinformed during my visit, but this information and Xavier’s rationale should be readily available. Generally, students shouldn’t have to scroll through pages-long emails or have to download Instagram to be informed about protections against a debilitating virus. It’s ludicrous that people first hear about it from the student newspaper.

Having spoken to many members of the administration and faculty on this front, they are working around the clock to keep us safe. You can’t come away from a conversation from someone on the COVID-19 Task force without sensing the love they have for Xavier. They truly want to have us together as a community and their tireless efforts since March must have aged them a few years. 

But this sense of safety — this willful ignorance — favors only the “healthy” among us. I feel significantly less safe as someone with an underlying condition on this campus knowing that administrators aren’t even trying to manage asymptomatic carriers.

We can have videos of Father Graham asking us not to party or wear our masks  all we want. But when it comes down to it, the university must adapt. It’s absolutely insulting that I cannot feel safe in the community I’ve devoted three years of my life to. 

Just like everyone else, I’m scared. Communication and transparency has been Xavier’s Achilles’ heel since I stepped foot onto campus. But with my lungs on  the line, I can’t accept this any longer. 

With love, 

~Heather Gast