For most people, getting a positive test result comes as a complete surprise. Yet with rising cases on campus, positive test results have become a reality for over 150 Carleton community members this term. Students have become accustomed to being tested, and know what to expect when they open their email. But once they read a positive test result, they’re lost. Where are they going to isolate? How fast does it all happen?
As of January 13th, there are 70 Carleton students in isolation; however, according to Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students Carolyn Livingston, this number is constantly changing. Roughly 30% of students with COVID-19 are currently isolating in their dorm rooms or houses. Some dorms have designated COVID-19 bathrooms for people who are isolating in their rooms, a factor that plays into who gets placed out and who isolates in their room. The other 70% of students are at a variety of places, including the Fairfield Inn and the Alumni House.
The COVID-19 Core Team, focused on mitigating COVID-19 at Carleton, believes remaining in dorm rooms is the ideal situation, in the hopes of making quarantine easier for students.
“We know how hard it is to receive a positive test result and learn that you have to stay away from classes, friends and activities,” Livingston said. “What we are really focused on is minimizing the number of disruptions our students have to deal with while minimizing the over-all risk of transmission to our campus community.”
Sophie Lenzer ’25 was one of the first 18 people to test positive after arriving on campus.
“When I saw the positive test result in my email, I stopped dead in my tracks standing in the middle of the sidewalk,” Lenzer said. “I thought maybe if I scrolled it’ll say it was negative.”
At the start of Winter Term, Carleton had 29 designated isolation spaces on campus. Since then, Carleton reserved a floor at the Fairfield Inn, a short walk from campus, creating 40 more spaces. At the Fairfield Inn, students with COVID-19 are not permitted to move around the hotel outside of the Carleton reserved floor.
Though Carleton’s Case Investigation and Contact Tracing team works seven days a week, it can still take a few hours for students to get their placement. Lenzer received her results around 12:30 p.m., and was contacted by the contact tracing team at 4:45 p.m.
Lenzer recalled being nervous waiting, as she was unsure what to do. She called Student Health and Counseling (SHAC) to see if there were any safety instructions for her. She noted that later, many people reached out to her including Associate Dean of Students Trey Williams.
The Quarantine and Isolation Coordinator came in contact with Lenzer and dropped her at the hotel around 6:45 p.m., as Security Services has a secure vehicle for bringing students to isolation spaces if they need.
Janellie Gregory-Santos ‘24 noted that the timeline can vary for students, as she received her result around 12:30 p.m. Once students are given their placement, they are given approval to come over to their location when they are ready.
“It took about two hours to get contacted about testing positive. At about 5:00 p.m. that evening is when I got my placement and the OK to move in,” Gregory-Santos said.
One additional complication to being placed in isolation has been the time at which polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test results are coming back. Recently, the testing provider has been sending results in the middle of the night.
According to Livingston, students who receive their results should wait until the morning to be instructed on how and where to quarantine. If any students do receive their tests in the middle of the night, Livingston hopes they will mask up and stay in their room to protect their possible roommates and floormates.
While baseline testing continues to reveal more COVID-19 cases, Livingston is optimistic about the capacity of isolation spaces.
“We are also able to move people out of isolation more quickly than in previous terms,” Livingston said. “This is a benefit for both the student and the college.”
Gregory-Santos stayed in the Fairfield Inn for eight days, after which she said students were allowed to leave isolation. Lenzer stayed for a shorter time, as the team was able to trace when she got COVID-19 based on tests she had taken right before coming to campus.
“It was just because I had taken two tests before I came and I had the dates of the tests,” Lenzer said. “I was able to test on Day six and go back to my dorm with a negative test result.”
As COVID-19 maintains its grip on Winter Term, the uncertainty and rumors of isolation space have only grown. While there is no blanket rule as to how or where a student gets placed in isolation, students will receive information and placement within the day.