University Reports 469 Cases and Potential Isolate-in-Place Protocol

The University experienced a 6.34 percent positivity rate and announced a possible isolation-in-place policy for on-campus residents.

By Eric Fang and Anu Vashist

The University reported 469 new COVID-19 cases in the past week, marking a 6.34 percent positivity rate, according to a UChicago Forward email sent out on Friday. As of Friday, 13 students are in on-campus isolation housing while 310 are isolating off-campus.

Earlier on Friday, an email to all on-campus students outlined a potential switch to isolation-in-place protocols, should the University’s current isolation housing, Stony Island, operate over its 120-student capacity.

Assistant Vice President for Campus Life Richard Mason and Interim Executive Director of Housing & Residence Life Heath Rossner wrote in the email that students may be asked to isolate in their assigned rooms instead of relocating to Stony Island. They cited a substantial increase in the number of campus members who have tested positive as a reason for the change.

Public health guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls for students to be isolated for 10 days, with the option to leave after five days with a negative rapid antigen test and “if certain symptom improvement conditions have been met,” said the email.

Roommates of students isolating in place are not required to follow isolation protocol unless they also test positive for COVID-19. The CDC states that individuals are considered contagious at least two days before showing any symptoms or testing positive for the virus.

Students isolating in place are to keep contact with others to a minimum; they can only leave to use a designated bathroom, collect meals from a designated location, seek emergency medical care, and discard trash. Isolating students may not leave their room to pick up ordered food or deliveries of any kind. Isolating students sharing a suite with roommates are not to use common spaces, such as bathrooms, kitchens, or living rooms.

Residence halls will collaborate with UChicago Dining to provide students isolating in place with three meals each day and a designated meal pick-up location. Students can collect the meals during two pick-up times in the middle of the day. Dinner and the next day’s breakfast can be collected together in the early evening, while lunch can be collected separately earlier.

All individuals currently living in a residence hall, regardless of vaccination status, are subject to weekly COVID-19 testing through the Mandatory Surveillance Testing Program. The Voluntary Surveillance Testing Program has been temporarily suspended to accommodate the Mandatory Surveillance Testing Program and the large number of people who have been exposed to COVID-19 or who show symptoms.

Ash Arian, Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Chair of the Residence Life and Dining Committee and College Council 2024 Representative, expressed concern that the University is temporarily discontinuing the Voluntary Surveillance Testing Program. He feels that the program was especially important for reducing cases among students living off campus.

“As of today, there appears to be a decrease of occupants in isolation housing yet we see that policies, such as the suspension of the Voluntary Surveillance Testing Program, will likely produce a spike in COVID-19 cases,” Arian said. “Although these resources have been used to open a new symptomatic testing site in Stuart, many off-campus students returning to Hyde Park depended on the program as an efficient way to monitor their status.”

In light of the fact that peer institutions such as Stanford, Northwestern, and UPenn mandate students test for COVID-19 upon arrival, USG President Allen Abbott wishes the University could have increased its testing capacities and provided more support for students and faculty as they navigate hybrid learning models.

“The nation is facing a [COVID-19] test and mask shortage, but it is telling that on the same day that UChicago is pausing its voluntary testing program due to capacity constraints, most of our peer institutions are announcing mandatory arrival testing programs for all students, handing out free N95 and KN95 masks for residents, or even just providing explicit guidance for faculty to support hybrid learning models over the next few weeks for the sick and immunocompromised,” Abbott said.

The University is maintaining its commitment to resume in-person instruction on January 24. After which, isolating students are expected to contact their instructors to attend classes remotely, request a recording of the class, or make up work at a later date.

Roommates of a COVID-positive student will not have to isolate unless they also test positive, but they may be given an alternative housing arrangement. “Depending on their COVID status and health history, roommates of students who test positive for COVID-19 may be advised to temporarily re-locate for the period of their rommate’s required isolation,” the Housing email said. When students are notified of their roommates’ isolation-in-place status, they will receive temporary relocation options—which are either on campus or very close to campus and are available at no additional cost.

The University has reserved Stuart Hall 007 as the exclusive location for symptomatic testing. Other testing locations at the Walker Museum (open Monday through Friday) and the Gleacher Center (open on Fridays) will provide only asymptomatic testing for the Mandatory Surveillance Testing and the Exposure Testing Programs.

Asymptomatic students and employees who believe they may have been exposed to COVID-19 or are informed by the University or another public health entity that they have been exposed can sign up for a test through the my.WellnessPortal.