Brendan W. Clark ’21
Kip Lynch ’22
Trinity has placed infected students in the Stowe and Clemens dormitories, and a single unit in the Vernon dormitory, to accommodate increasing reports of positive cases which have overwhelmed the College’s primary isolation facility in Doonesbury. The decisions have raised widespread concern about the health and safety of students as coronavirus cases continued to rise at the College over the Columbus Day weekend.
Students with COVID-19 in isolation in these dormitories have been placed on the same floors as non-infected students without any notice to residents, a decision that was not acknowledged publicly by the College until Monday evening despite multiple requests from concerned students and the Tripod.
In an email Monday evening, Vice President for Student Success and Enrollment Management Joe DiChristina indicated that “thirty-four of the [infected] students are in isolation on campus and 13 are at their homes.” Trinity’s positive, active COVID-19 cases had increased from 45 to 47 by Monday evening, a total which the Tripod previously reported as the highest in the NESCAC.
Despite DiChristina’s claim Monday evening that the College had “previously identified additional isolation spaces on and off-campus that add to our capacity for isolation” since the spring semester, College officials have repeatedly refused to identify those spaces by name since mid-September, when the Tripod first requested clarity on Trinity’s COVID-19 mitigation plan.
Those in isolation, according to DiChristina, remain in “apartment-style spaces that are self-contained.” These students receive “meal delivery and support,” according to DiChristina, and also have ensuite bathrooms. Those in “off-campus isolation housing” will receive the same support. DiChristina declined to identify that housing, describing it only as “adjacent.” Chief of Staff to the President Jason Rojas did not previously name the other isolation dormitories in his email Saturday, aside from reference to various “dedicated isolation facilities.”
Parents and residents of Stowe and Clemens were not informed when registering for housing about the possibility of those spaces being used as isolation facilities. Following an extensive Tripod review of materials Monday, there was no mention of the College’s isolation facilities by name—other than Doonesbury—in the College’s “Community Contract,” residential life agreements, reopening website, and communications that had been sent externally to the community before Monday.
Students at Stowe first learned that certain rooms would be used to isolate COVID-19 students when they arrived late Saturday. Cleaning staff, who arrived to disinfect dormitories, confirmed to Tripod reporters that evening that the relocated students had tested positive for the coronavirus and were beginning isolation procedures.
College officials first communicated with residents Monday evening, two days after the first students were moved, via an email from Dean of Student Life Jody Goodman which asserted that infected “students understand that they will not leave their living quarters.” The College has not clarified how access to the dormitory is controlled or how Trinity can restrict infected students from exiting their rooms.
In Clemens, the Tripod has independently confirmed that student Resident Advisors (RAs) received conflicting reports from College administrators on the relocation of infected students. RAs have indicated that Residential Life officials initially denied that infected students had been relocated over the weekend to Stowe and Clemens in telephone calls, later reversing that position Monday after the relocation had become widely reported. Rojas did not respond to the Tripod’s request for clarity on how instructions regarding the annexation of these dorms for isolation were given to residential life employees.
Housing students with COVID-19 on the same floor as non-infected students—with access to the building’s central ventilation system in each room—has raised concerns from some epidemiologists, given that the virus is novel, and the extent of aerosol transmission remains uncertain. The World Health Organization (WHO) and, further, Hartford HealthCare, with whom the College has partnered, have likewise warned in public statements of the uncertainties around HVAC transmission.
NPR, reporting on a study in June by researchers at the University of Oregon, found “genetic material from SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, inside “a hospital’s HVAC system.” This, the University of Oregon researchers argued, demonstrates that it may be possible “for the virus to be transmitted through HVAC systems.”
The Yale School of Public Health has also released a report on the importance of commissioning indoor ventilation systems, noting their importance in limiting the spread of the coronavirus. Trinity has only indicated that “HVAC building systems have been operational” since March. The College has not responded to requests for comment from students and the Tripod on the adequacy of the ventilation system in the dormitory or on what specific improvements had been made to ensure student safety given the relocation of infected students to the same floor.
According to DiChristina, these protocols were developed in “close collaboration with the Health Center and our partnership with Hartford HealthCare,” though no comment was attributed to Trinity’s yet-to-be-named Hartford HealthCare infectious disease specialist in Monday’s email.
Residents in Stowe have expressed concern over other aspects of the College’s COVID-19 mitigation plan. Residents have requested hand sanitizer for three weeks at dispensing units near the dormitory, a request that has not been addressed by the College.
DiChristina’s comments Monday came three days after the Tripod first reported on the possible use of the Clemens dormitory and two days after multiple independently confirmed reports that the College has utilized alternate spaces without providing notice to dormitory residents.
While Trinity remains at an “orange” alert level, the College has reauthorized “passive recreation” at the track at Jessee/Miller Field and in the “grass field adjacent to Hansen Hall.” Trinity continues to bar “gatherings of any size” outdoors and indoors, according to DiChristina’s email.
College officials, including Rojas, DiChristina, and Director of Residential Life Susan Salisbury did not respond to multiple Tripod requests, though the Tripod confirmed via notification that DiChristina and Salisbury had read the messages. Rojas later replied on behalf of the College on Saturday, Oct. 18.