As students return to classrooms, it is becoming increasingly clear that the current COVID-19 testing and isolation guidelines need major reform.
The housing provided to those who test positive at Pomona College can be dismal. TSL recently reported that students in isolation have faced a lack of basic necessities and the tools to accommodate learning via Zoom. Isolated students can run into problems even going outside to take a walk, even while masked.
Such conditions create anxiety and discomfort for students already suffering from the physical and mental weariness that comes with contracting COVID-19. Additionally, contradictory instructions for testing and release from isolation have been provided by Pomona and Student Health Services, creating confusion for students navigating isolation. Also notably missing from guidelines provided by Pomona or SHS are an acknowledgement of testing error and measures to address potential false-positive test results.
Last week, I received a positive COVID-19 test when I returned to campus, so I decided to return home to self-isolate, fortunate to be able to forgo on-campus isolation living spaces. On my way home, I stopped at a testing facility in Los Angeles, and it was to my surprise when later that night I received a negative PCR result. A Pomona dean called me the next day to check in on my symptoms, and I was excited to report that not only was I asymptomatic but also negative. I suggested Pomona allow me to retest and determine my most up-to-date COVID-19 status. I was told that it would not be possible, and I would have to wait until my Day 6 for an antigen test provided by SHS.
The dean reassured me during multiple subsequent phone calls that SHS would reach out to me on Monday or Tuesday (Day 4 or 5) of my isolation so that I could come take an antigen test on Day 6. However, when Day 7 arrived, and I still had no contact from SHS, I decided to call them myself. The SHS representative told me that my dean had been misinformed, and that it was my responsibility to contact them to schedule a test. Luckily, SHS had an opening for later that morning and, within 15 minutes of my test, I learned that I was, indeed, negative. Filled with relief, I returned to campus later that day.
The one-day difference in my antigen test made little substantial difference; due to Zoom classes during my isolation, my COVID-19 status did not impact my access to my education. However, as we return to in-person learning this week, it is essential that Pomona and SHS work out the kinks in their guidelines so that healthy students can get out of isolation and back into the classroom as quickly as possible.
The current COVID-19 guidelines on Pomona’s website state that “the contact tracing team will reach back out to you and let you know when you will become eligible to schedule an antigen test.” The SHS website contains the same phrase verbatim. So why was I never approached by the contact tracing team, nor told that it was my duty to book the test? The discrepancy between the stated policies of Pomona and SHS and the instructions administered to those in isolation is concerning, and breeds confusion and distrust among students.
I do not know for sure whether my initial COVID-19 test was a false positive, but there should be a system in place for students who test negative after an initial positive test. Pomona should allow students to be administered another test to rule out the possibility for false positives ahead of the Day 6 antigen test. Pomona also currently lacks a hybrid schooling model, meaning every day spent in isolation is a day of education lost.
While Pomona and SHS face a daunting task of keeping our community safe during this pandemic, they must also work to alleviate unnecessary anxiety, confusion and stress for students dealing with COVID-19, by improving on-campus isolation conditions and testing guidelines. By streamlining policy and communication, Pomona can ensure that infected students have everything they need and healthy students can quickly return to the classroom.
Annika Reff PO ’25 is from Los Angeles, California. She enjoys consuming an unhealthy amount of caffeine and listening to the soothing voice of Michael Barbaro.