Trinity and Testing: A Tripod Investigation

Kat Namon ’22

Managing Editor

In order to bring students back to campus this semester, Trinity employed a COVID-19 testing program, along with additional requirements of submitting daily symptom reports through the CoVerified app. The College is also providing the community with an online dashboard that is intended to keep the extended community aware of the number of negative, positive, and invalid cases, both active and inactive on the Trinity campus. Trinity has also relaxed enforcement of some coronavirus precautions, electing in numerous cases to not enforce the non-socialization mandate on the main quad and other outdoor public spaces from Aug. 24 to Sept. 7. 

Despite efforts made by the College to ensure a smooth process in testing everyone who enters campus or is currently residing there, the College has reported numerous invalid cases (as of Sept. 11, there have been 107 since Aug. 17 when the testing program began). This discrepancy is largely tied to the self-swabbing requirement, the Tripod has learned. Director of Athletics Drew Gailbraith expanded that self-swabbing is the only way that the College could adhere to CDC guidelines for mass-testing individuals, adding that “while there are a number of different COVID tests reaching the market and in the FDA-approval process, the ability to efficiently administer the test to 950-1,000 community members per day made the self-swab an attractive choice for Trinity and over 100 other colleges in New England.” Galbraith did indicate that some measure of invalids were anticipated as the Broad Institute, Trinity’s testing partner, was expecting “2.5% of the tests to come back invalid because of collection.” “Our number of invalids,” Galbraith noted, “while still under 2%, should come down as students, faculty and staff become more experienced with the swab over the course of the semester.”

The Tripod spoke with Practicing Director of Student Health Services of Campus Care Martha O’Brien, who added that she contacts those who receive an invalid result through email. In the email, O’Brien requests a repeat test for each invalid and TNP result. Students are then urged to schedule another test as soon as possible “so we can be thorough and test all of our community,” though it is not clear how the College follows-up directly with those who do not submit to prompt retesting. 

Many students and community members remain confused by the terminology and frequency of updating the Trinity College COVID-19 Dashboard. According to the webpage, the website is updated “twice per week during business hours.” 

However, last week, the dashboard was updated several times, including after a College employee tested positive Wednesday afternoon. Vice President for Communications and Marketing Angela Schaeffer clarified to the Tripod that “currently active cases” and “positive tests,” as referred to on the dashboard, are two completely different metrics. Schaeffer suggested that “currently active cases refers to the number of people who have recently tested positive and are currently in isolation (whether on campus or elsewhere) per CDC guidelines.” Schaeffer went on to add that “positive tests are not representative of a number of people, but rather a number of tests (some individuals may be retested and receive multiple positive tests).” 

Schaeffer went into detail about the reported “prior” cases of COVID-19 on the College’s dashboard. These cases are reported because “there were a small number of students (now four) who arrived on campus having tested positive for COVID-19 at some earlier point, but past the point at which the CDC would consider them contagious. Those individuals shouldn’t have been included in the campus testing at this point, but they were inadvertently tested upon arrival. They are not and never were active cases on our campus.” According to an email from DiChristina Monday evening, Trinity’s case count is now at eight positive cases among students and one positive case among employees. There are six currently active cases, with two previously active cases having been released “because they did not exhibit symptoms after the required 10-day isolation period.”

With regards to addressing positive cases, Schaeffer stressed that the College is not  automatically sending home students who test positive for the virus. She went on to clarify that “all active cases are monitored daily, and those individuals can return to their regular activities (that is, attending in-person classes, living in their regularly assigned residence hall, etc.)—per CDC guidelines—once 10 days have passed without symptoms—or 10 days since the date of a positive test in the case of those who never experienced symptoms.” 

In addition to new testing procedures this semester, the College has indicated that the administration would be employing stricter disciplinary actions for students who did not adhere to either testing guidelines or social distancing requirements. The severity of these disciplinary actions was emphasized prior to student arrival to campus in an email from Dean of Campus Life and Vice President for Student Affairs Joe DiChristina. 

However, during the first several days of student return to campus, DiChristina and College administrators elected to not enforce certain policies.  In an email to students August 18, DiChristina noted that the College would not “allow individuals to socialize in spaces (e.g., on the Main Quad, the LSC quad, athletic fields, lounges/common rooms) until we get past this first stage of arrival, August 24-September 7.” During that period, multiple groups socialized on quads and keycard access to some lounges and spaces for study, particularly in academic buildings, remained accessible without restriction. DiChristina subsequently permitted socialization on public spaces, limited to six individuals, via an email on Sept. 14. 

When asked to comment on this discrepancy in policy enforcement, DiChristina told the Tripod that the administration “will continue to engage members of our College community on the expectations and responsibilities we all have in maintaining a healthy campus community. As we have encountered individual students or small groups of students in public areas, we have chosen to speak with them and remind them of expectations in the community contract and in our polices.” Any decision on increased gathering sizes in indoor and outdoor spaces will be made “during the week of September 14,” according to DiChristina. 

A number of students have experienced disciplinary actions since arrival to campus, with DiChristina adding that “as of Sept. 7, a small number of students have been removed from on-campus housing and are now learning remotely. Since Aug. 24, numerous students have received disciplinary warnings.” He noted that the “vast majority of students have shown care for our community by abiding by the expectations of the community contract” and that the administration “will continue to work with students as matters arise.”

In the College’s Community Contract, it was suggested that off-campus travel may be severely limited by the College. However, this provision has not been enforced, with multiple incidences of off-campus travel to restaurants and other social venues being well-documented via social media and other platforms. When asked about the contract and how students have been operating since their return to campus, DiChristina clarified that the “restrictions don’t apply to personal travel” but that the administration is asking for community members to “carefully consider the potential impact of personal travel on individual and community health given the increased risk it can cause.” He also added that if the number of cases increases on campus, the College “will provide additional guidance regarding travel as necessary.” 

The Community Contract, meanwhile, does not function as a waiver of legal liability for student health, injury, or death if the coronavirus were to be contracted while on-campus or from another student of the College. When pressed if the College viewed the contract as a liability waiver, DiChristina asserted that the administration “does not view the community contract that way.” 

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