On March 1, Valparaiso University announced that it would be suspending in-person classes until March 14 due to an increase of positive cases of COVID-19 following surveillance testing. As of March 4, the university has 75 positive cases with 341 students in isolation or quarantine according to the Looking Forward dashboard.
Senior Justin McClain has kept a close eye on the university’s COVID-19 dashboard leading up to the shutdown.
On Monday, Valpo updated the dashboard to include the high number of positive cases, showing zero percent for quarantine beds available.
“I know that they updated the dashboard, it was like seven thirty pm on Monday, before the president sent the email [announcing the move to online classes],” McClain said. “That was probably not the best move. They probably should’ve waited for the email and then updated the dashboard because once the dashboard was updated I feel like the whole campus kind of freaked out.”
McClain also believes that there are inconsistencies with the policies in place at the university.
“Everyone in quarantine should be tested before they are out of quarantine,” McClain said. “The whole idea of it’s not safe enough to go to classes but it’s safe enough to play ping-pong in the games room, that’s just not consistent. That’s not helpful at all.”
McClain feels that there could have been more done to have a more proactive COVID-19 response.
“I just truly wish that the Incident Command team would’ve had more public health professionals or more public health insight on it instead of clearly just focusing on the economics or their PR and how it looks to the outside. Things are really bad. The campus is not doing hot and so far they’ve just been putting like a band-aid on things,” McClain said. “We’re doing almost nothing right.”
Students have been asked to quarantine due to contact tracing as well. This means that the student has been in close contact with someone who tested positive. Freshman Ben Newsom received the notice that he had been contact traced in an email while he was in a public dining space on campus.
“I got an email last night [March 2] when I was at Founder’s saying to read it urgently, so I opened it right there. It said that I need to quarantine, I had been exposed at some point,” said Newsom. “Which is weird because I hang out with the same three people every day and I Zoom into all my classes. And none of them got an email and none of them tested positive. So it’s kind of confusing to me how I was exposed.”
Newsom also noted that there seemed to be a bit of delay with receiving communication from the Health Center.
“It [the email] said I had been exposed on Friday and I’m just now getting an email. I got one last night [March 2] at around six o’clock...,” Newsom stated. “My brother was exposed on Thursday and he didn’t get an email until this morning [March 3] at noon from the Health Center. But he knew that he needed to quarantine because it was one of his best friends [that he had been exposed to] so he went home.”
Some students, such as senior Natalie Janke, have been instructed to quarantine in the Guild-Memorial (GM) residence halls.
“Tuesday night [March 2] around six I got an email from the university saying that I had been in contact with someone who had tested positive and that I was required to self quarantine for 14 days,” Janke said.
While Janke understands the frustrations spreading throughout campus, she encourages patience in other students.
“Have patience with the university, have patience with your peers, have patience with yourselves,” said Janke. “They [administrators] are in those positions for a reason and although it might not seem like things are together or things are for our best interest, they’re trying to figure this out just as much as we are.”
Students that are not in quarantine who live in GMl have not yet been made aware of the quarantined students by the university. Junior Jacky Delgado found out when she went to the bathroom in her building on Wednesday morning.
“I saw a sign [on a bathroom and shower stall] that said for quarantine students only. It was just very shocking, it was kind of frustrating because I feel like I’m just constantly in the dark about like what’s going on with COVID precautions on campus,” said Delgado. “I’d rather they would just tell us what’s going on because, you know, waking up to see that and getting no email explaining the situation just feels like a slap in the face.”
Natalie Vernon has been quarantined in Alumni Hall due to a positive result from her COVID-19 test. She got a call from the Health Center on March 2 regarding her results.
“Initially they called me but I was in the middle of class and I didn’t have my phone on. And they of course didn’t leave a message,” said Vernon. “It was like three hours later that they emailed me from the Health Center email and they were like, ‘Call us ASAP.’”
Vernon did just that, but had no luck getting through to the Health Center.
“It took me like 45 minutes to actually contact somebody,” Vernon said. “It was really one of those things that I had to leave a message.”
Her results were explained to her and she was given a time period for when she would be expected to return to normal housing after quarantine.
“They told me that I tested positive during my test and that I would need to be in quarantine until the seventh,” Vernon said.
Vernon is unsure whether or not she or other students who have tested positive will be required to be tested again before leaving quarantine.
“They said nothing about being tested again,” Vernon said. “I hope that I’ll be tested again before I have to leave my quarantine just for safety reasons, but I don’t know.”
Junior Joshua DeJarlais faced different challenges after finding out that he had tested positive.
“I got a call on Monday around five o’clock that said I tested positive and I live in a fraternity house that’s considered off campus, so I asked what my options are,” said DeJarlais. “The person at the Health Center said that they actually weren’t sure what I had to do.”
“They said that they probably would have to send me home. I informed them that my parents are older, they were older when they had me, and my sister-in-law who is like part of my family’s bubble is pregnant, she’s due in two weeks,” DeJarlais said. “So they couldn’t really take me in their house because it’s especially risky.”
DeJarlais didn’t know what to do, and the Health Center didn’t either.
“I was not allowed to stay on campus because I live with ten other people and I was not allowed to go into Alumni housing because they had zero beds left,” DeJarlais said.
DeJarlais was luckily able to find housing at his grandmother’s home.
“Luckily my grandma goes to Florida every year, she has a house down there, and her house [up here] is totally empty so she’s letting me stay here,” DeJarlais said. “I don’t know what I would’ve done if I didn’t have that option.”
When DeJarlais called the Health Center to inform them of his plan to stay at his grandmother’s house, they then let him know that he could be put on a waitlist to stay in Alumni.
“Then they told me that if I wanted to stay in Alumni I’d have to be on like a waiting list, which at that point how does that make any sense,” DeJarlais said.
DeJarlais is grateful that he was able to make arrangements to leave campus safely, but knows that others are facing more challenges and may not be as fortunate.