On Monday night, SGA Rep Council heard from members of Barnard’s Pandemic Response Team about – you guessed it – Barnard’s pandemic response, including student experiences in quarantine and isolation, and how to keep the Barnard, and Harlem communities safe.

Welcome back to another week of SGA coverage! As always, the meeting began with external announcements from several of the reps.

 Emily Ndiokho, BC ‘22, VP for Policy, asked students to submit questions for Dr. Elizabeth Scott-Francis, the new Director of Nondiscrimination and Title IX in advance of her Zoom Q&A event. Additionally, applications for the upcoming Fireside Chat with President Beilock are due on Friday, February 19, and the chat itself will be held on Wednesday, February 24. Additionally, the last session of the Barnard Bold conference will be held on Friday, February 19.  

Danielle Hopkins, BC ‘21, VP for Finance, wished everyone a Happy Black History Month!

First-Year Class President Avalon Fenster, BC ‘24, invited her classmates to apply to her new Virtual Roommates program, to be paired with a virtual roommate. First-years should DM @barnardclassof2024 on Instagram for the application link.

VP for Campus Life Flosha Liyana, BC ‘21, shared that the Student Leadership Award nomination form deadline has been extended until next Monday, and encouraged students to nominate their peers, regardless of class year, who have demonstrated excellent leadership.

Junior Class President Audrey Pettit, BC ‘22, announced that Class of 2022 T-shirts will be delivered within the next few weeks. Additionally, all spaces at the upcoming tarot card reading event are full, but juniors can email barnard2022@gmail.com to get on the waitlist.

Carmela Casaburi, BC ‘23, asked students to follow @barnardwellness on Instagram and to fill out the weekly anonymous mental health check-in form which can be found in their bio. 

Sophomore Class President Myesha Choudhury, BC ‘23, encouraged sophomores to fill out the general feedback form and to follow @barnard2023 on Instagram. 

Solace Mensah-Narh, BC ‘21, VP for Equity, also wished students a Happy Black History Month and invited students to attend “Building Engaging and Beloved Community Spaces,” an event that will inquire about how we name and enter into community at Barnard, and what this means for our place in the larger Harlem community. The event will take place at 6 pm on Wednesday, February 24. Additionally, there are two student jobs open in the office of Community Engagement and interested students can find more information on BarnardWorks. 

Parker Watts, BC ‘22, Representative for Inclusive Initiatives, echoed all of Mensah-Narh’s announcement and added that applications for Voting Week chair would remain open until Wednesday. Watts explained that this is one of the largest budget projects on campus, and as such, she would love to see a Barnard student in this role. More information can be found on their social media accounts, which are @votingweek across platforms. 

Senior Class President Norah Hassan, BC ‘21, encouraged her classmates to attend the Senior Toast, which occurred on Wednesday, February 17. 

Chelsea Sinclair BC ‘21, Chair of the Elections Commission and Senior Representative to the Board of Trustees, announced that anyone interested in running for an SGA position should email her at cs3556@barnard.edu, and should keep an eye out for more election information soon. As many reps echoed in the chat, “RUSH SGA!”

The rest of the meeting was dedicated to a presentation from Barnard’s Pandemic Response Team (PRT) about how the response has been going as campus slowly reopens. 

The PRT is composed of some familiar faces, including Cynthia Yang, BC ‘02, Deputy Chief of Staff to President Beilock and Head of Pandemic Response, and Executive Director of Student Health and Wellness MJ Murphy. Director of Pandemic Strategic Response Liz Evans, Clinical Advisor and Contact Tracing and Screening Manager April Autry, and Quarantine/Isolation Senior Program Manager Jeff Manning were hired specifically to respond to the pandemic, beginning their roles at Barnard about two months ago.

Yang explained that the health and safety of the Barnard community is the top priority, even if it means temporary individual inconveniences. The college’s response is informed by data from other institutions’ response strategies, regulations from New York City and New York State, and CDC guidelines.

The PRT hopes to create a culture of “engaged education and risk mitigation” by educating the Barnard community about how to make the safest choices when a range of options are available, as opposed to abstaining entirely. Yang framed the response as a series of dials and levers, rather than on/off switches: they would prefer to make gradual changes rather than entirely halting an existing system. Additionally, Barnard’s pandemic response is necessarily tied to Columbia’s pandemic response, so the Barnard PRT must be in communication and coordination with their Columbia colleagues. 

Evans defined some key terms regarding the pandemic: COVID-19 is the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus; a case is a confirmed positive test or diagnosis; a contact is someone who was exposed to a case—exposure is defined as being within 6’ of a case for 10 or more minutes within 24 hours or sharing a residential bathroom with a case. 

She also clarified that the term “isolation” refers only to a confirmed COVID-19 infection. A 10-day isolation is necessary for those who test positive. Any infected person who doesn’t have a private bathroom is relocated to isolation housing; Evans clarified that if all residents are infected with COVID-19, such as in the isolation housing in Brooks Hall, then it is safe for them to share a communal bathroom. 

Anyone exposed to COVID-19 is required to quarantine while they wait for test results to limit interaction with other people. Many states and countries require travelers to quarantine for a specific period of time upon arrival, which Barnard students experienced when moving into campus housing this spring. 

Yang also explained testing options. Barnard’s twice-weekly testing program uses PCR tests, which are molecular tests looking for viral DNA, and are considered the gold standard in terms of accuracy. Antigen (rapid) tests look for proteins associated with SARS-CoV-2 and are used for symptomatic cases to quickly receive results and make a positive diagnosis. Yang explained that the standard for detection can vary between tests, and in the case of a Barnard community member receiving varying results from different tests, any positive test becomes the definitive test. She emphasized that a negative test is not a “green light” for all activities, as the “only thing it tells you is if you need to go into isolation based on what was in your nose” at the time of your test. 

Yang then discussed how the pandemic response strategies of Fall 2020 have prepared us for the Spring 2021 semester. During the Fall semester, Barnard established weekly testing and contact tracing. The PRT learned that a number of students lived together in “pods” in off-campus apartments, sometimes in shared rooms, at a higher density than Barnard housing had intended to allow. However, the students were able to live together safely and minimize transmission, which Yang applauded.

Regardless of location, students reported feelings of isolation and disconnectedness, which Yang cited as a reason for opening the campus further this semester. She stressed the need for agility during this reopening time, as the College responds to new developments. 

Autry then went over a number of potential scenarios regarding COVID-19. 

  • If a student tests positive in the Barnard testing center, they will be notified by PCHS. Residential students will move to isolation housing. Case managers will assist in delivering food and medications to students. The Contact Tracing team will trace the student’s contacts from 2 days before they tested positive or started showing symptoms and instruct those contacts about what precautions to take. PCHS calls every student every day during isolation to check on them, as do case managers. The isolation period is at minimum 10 days, and students’ symptoms have to improve, with no fever in the past 24 hours, to return to their regular housing
  • If a student experiences symptoms, they report these in the CoVerified app. They will initially connect with the PRT, then will go to PCHS to receive an antigen test to determine quickly whether the student has COVID-19. If the rapid test is negative, the student will take a PCR test to be certain that they are not infected, and will be moved to intermediate housing. In this housing, they won’t share a communal bathroom with confirmed cases, like in isolation housing, but will be removed from their suitemates or roommates to avoid putting them at risk. If a student is sharing a bathroom with someone who is experiencing symptoms, the student should quarantine in their suite while waiting for the symptomatic student’s results. If the symptomatic student’s test results are negative, then they are able to move back into their normal housing. 
  • If a student has been exposed to someone who has since tested positive, the student will receive a call from the contact tracing team informing them of their exposure. The contact tracers will not share personal information about who the case is, but will tell the student to quarantine for 10 days in their normal housing. The student can then take a test at PCHS between 5–7 days after their exposure.

Murphy then discussed some of the changes in Health Services as part of Barnard’s pandemic response. Furman Counseling Center has expanded its hours to 9 am to 8 pm Monday to Thursday, and 9 am to 6 pm on Friday; they have also expanded Fonemed services for remote students. More resources are available on the Furman website, including an increased offering of group therapy options. Murphy clarified that if a student is in crisis, Furman will always see them, regardless of whether they have previously been seen at Furman.

All of Furman’s services are being conducted by phone or Zoom. PCHS is currently conducting two-thirds of appointments via telehealth, which students have reacted positively to. An RN is available some weekend hours to conduct clinical tests for students. Additionally, the over-the-counter medicine vending machine has been moved to the first floor of Brooks Hall. The entire PCHS staff, as well as two-thirds of the Furman staff, is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Evans then reviewed the four areas of the PRT: testing; screening; contact tracing; and quarantine and isolation. 

Everyone accessing campus is in the testing program, including students, faculty, staff, and Chartwells. Individuals in the program are tested monthly at minimum or weekly if they live in a residential hall or are regularly interacting with students. All community members have the option to get tested weekly if they so choose. Unfortunately, due to limitations on the numbers of tests, Barnard cannot open testing to alumnae, the family of faculty and staff, or members of the Harlem community. 

Screening is conducted through the CoVerified daily symptoms check that everyone must fill out if they are accessing Barnard’s campus.

Barnard’s contact tracing is focused on the Barnard and Columbia community, but the larger citywide contact tracing program alerts people across NYC. Evans stressed that through the contact tracing and isolation process, an infected student’s identifying information is kept private from faculty, facilities, and any community members who do not need to know. (To this point, she encouraged students who are required to isolate themselves to be in touch with their class deans as much as they would feel comfortable with, in order to secure accommodations for classes.)

Quarantine and isolation are managed by four case managers and a team of runners, who respond to requests that quarantine and isolated students send through the Outreach Form. 

Manning reviewed the move-in process for the Spring 2021 semester, which brought almost 800 students back to campus housing. Students were required to take one or two pre-arrival tests, depending on where they were coming to campus from, and Barnard provided mail-in Vault tests to domestic students; these tests found 11 positive cases, and those students were able to quarantine at home. Students then took an entry test when they arrived on campus, which found five positive tests. Finally, students took a test on Day 4 of their travel-based quarantine, which found one positive test. 

At the height of the move-in quarantine period, there were 600 students in quarantine. Additionally, over the enter quarantine period, students placed 5,585 Outreach Forms, mostly pertaining to orders placed for delivery that needed to be brought to their rooms. 

Of the 780 students who went through the on-campus quarantine process, 174 completed the feedback form. Across the board, students were generally satisfied or very satisfied with pre-arrival communication, on-campus communication, and the overall quarantine experience. The PRT organized responses by class year, residence hall, and move-in date to see if there were any common negative experiences in these groupings, but they did not find any. In one section of the form, students were given the opportunity to write their own responses: 30 students wrote thank-you notes, 18 students expressed that they were given too much food in their Chartwells meal deliveries, and 12 students expressed other issues with the Chartwells food deliveries. 

Finally, Yang discussed plans for the future, including the rest of the spring and plans for vaccination. She stressed that this is a different year, and regular spring break travel plans will not be possible. She agreed that nothing would be better than traveling to visit family or friends, but that this is not what’s right for keeping people safe. Additionally, she asked students to consider how risky situations affect not only them but others around them, such as other residents in their building who might not have the same access to healthcare. About vaccines, she explained that New York City controls vaccine distribution and that there is no foreseeable date where Barnard could provide vaccines for any community members. However, there is a Barnard working group dedicating to informing eligible populations when they can get vaccinated.

The PRT then took questions from the representatives, but due to the short amount of time remaining in the open meeting, they were only able to hear from three representatives. 

Mensah-Narh asked for more information about why Barnard is only able to provide testing to Barnard affiliates and not Harlem residents, who have been severely hit by the pandemic, especially considering that Barnard has a surplus of tests that went unused when students didn’t return to campus in the Fall 2020 semester. Yang answered that that surplus has been accounted for in the Spring 2021 testing plan and that many institutions around Barnard, such as Riverside Church offer COVID-19 testing. She also noted that testing is just one component of a pandemic response strategy, and explained the difficulties with determining the next steps for an individual who tests positive for COVID-19, but perhaps doesn’t have healthcare, or the ability to isolate.

Fenster asked about professors who have penalized students for absences related to COVID-19 or mental health concerns, and whether this practice was allowed. Yang responded that this practice is not allowed, but unfortunately might occur, and encouraged any penalized students to reach out to their class dean or email covid19@barnard.edu.

Hassan asked what preparations were underway to make food deliveries to students in quarantine or isolation who will be fasting during Ramadan. Yang explained that they do not have a full plan yet, but they are working fast, and encourage student input on how best to provide fasting students with suhur, the pre-sunrise meal. 

More information can be found on Barnard’s Return to Campus page.

Diana Center via Bwog Archives