WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Wake Forest University has made some changes to its quarantine and isolation practices after a surge in cases on campus. School leaders said the goal is to manage the spread of the virus. However, some students say some of the changes puts some of them at risk.
As of Wednesday, Wake Forest University had 369 active COVID-19 cases. That number is nearly 200 more since last Thursday's 176. The alarming spike forced the school to go into lockdown late last week. The school is now operating on orange alert and is running out of rooms at a local hotel it's using as an isolation center for positive cases.
In addition, some students are uncomfortable with one COVID-related residential reassignment plan. Some students said with how quickly the virus has spread, the school needed to have gone into red alert instead.
"I am just not understanding how our campus modifications haven't changed. Like I am just not feeling safe at the moment," said Caitlin Graham, a senior at WFU.
School leaders have blamed social gatherings both on and off-campus for the increased COVID-19 cases and have banned visitors from residence halls.
"A lot of this is coming from students themselves being irresponsible so that has to be acknowledged," said Indy Cousin. Cousin is also a senior and Graham's roommate.
"Then placing those students that have been potentially irresponsible with other students were trying to keep their own space," said Cousin about adjustments to the university's practice for cases of exposure and confirmed cases of COVID-19.
University officials alerted students about those changes on Tuesday. Covid positive students may now have to share a hotel isolation room while the university works on making more space available. According to the message to the student body, posted on its website, the university has secured a partnership with another hotel location and said the rooms will soon be made available. Exposed students will quarantine in place for 14 days and in some cases may be moved to vacant unassigned rooms across the housing system.
That's concerning for roommates Indy Cousin and Caitlin Graham who live in off-campus housing. They said a student who had possibly been exposed but hadn't tested positive showed up at their door on February 5 saying she had been assigned to the empty fourth room in their apartment suite. After several calls for explanations, the visiting student was asked to return to her previous room assignment an hour after, according to Graham.
"It's those interactions that people have to have, like RAs who are not aware that they have positive people in their halls and having to cater to them or the employees at work here on this campus," Graham said.
The students said the university gets praise when it comes to safety during in-person learning. However, they added that they would also like to feel more confident about those safety protocols when they return to their housing locations.
"I don't worry about my classroom experience at all but the collateral is what comes after the classroom it's housing it's what's next," Cousin said.
University officials said they'll continue to monitor various factors and would move to red operating status if necessary.
Here is a link to the full message from WFU Vice President Penny Rue for Campus Life sent to students yesterday with additional updates. In her letter VP Rue writes:
"We currently have a high volume of cases that are stretching our capacity to isolate and quarantine. Solving the capacity problem safely and appropriately while remaining committed to our academic mission is our top priority. We continue to have confidence in the safety of our monitored academic spaces and classroom settings."
"Because we are experiencing an increase in students who have tested positive for COVID-19, have symptoms, or have been exposed to someone who has tested positive, we have made adjustments to our quarantine and isolation practices in consultation with infectious disease experts, including Dr. Chris Ohl. These measures will help us manage the number of students who need to be in quarantine and isolation to help our community reduce the spread of the virus. No student with a known, positive test or reported symptoms is being moved to a vacant room that shares any common spaces with other students," a spokesperson for WFU said in a statement.
"Use of Unassigned, Vacant Rooms; Residence Life and Housing is using unassigned, vacant rooms to assist in the quarantine process. These rooms may be used to house a student who has been asked to quarantine-in-place but should not do so in his or her current space. Additionally, it could be necessary to relocate a non-exposed student in order to facilitate an appropriate arrangement for a quarantined student. Information concerning the use of vacant spaces, and the guidelines for students needing to quarantine-in-place, were shared yesterday with students in applicable circumstances. Decisions to relocate students will be made based on public health guidance. We have also secured additional hotel space," the statement read.
Visit WFU COVID-19 Dashboard for more details