Worst Case Scenario Unlikely: Dr. Amy Patel Discusses Positive Covid-19 Cases and Virus Procedures

A departure from Fall Term protocol, all dorms will operate as one pod for the Spring Term. Above, Nathan Hale

The number of Covid-19 cases in the Andover community remains incredibly low, according to Medical Director Dr. Amy Patel. While there were seven new positive test results on-campus in the week of March 28, there has only been one new case in the week of April 5, according to Andover’s Covid-19 Testing Dashboard. Currently, sixteen campus community members are in quarantine and Andover is in the “Moderate Virus Transmission Risk” level for the week of April 5. Arrival quarantine ended April 3 and in-person classes began April 5. 

“Our numbers are incredibly, incredibly low, which is awesome. And I think it’s a testament to each individual really thinking about minimizing their risks. We should acknowledge that, and we should celebrate that that’s amazing. However, we should not be complacent because anything could change,” said Patel. 

While the data of Covid-19 cases to date has shown that Andover has not been anywhere near the worst-case scenario, the Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center has many other stopgaps in place to prevent campus from completely closing and all students from being sent home. For instance, an increase in the number of positive tests might require a few days of remote learning to minimize movement or more intensive cleaning protocols. The Wellness Center would also work to identify Covid-19 risks and apply methods to mitigate potential transmission causes. Based on current data, Patel believes that a worst case scenario is unlikely to occur, but cautions the Andover community to continue following prevention practices. 

According to Patel, the Wellness Center has a strict protocol in place for containing the spread of Covid-19 by tracking the close contacts of those who test positive. As defined by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) standards, a close contact is anybody who has been within six feet, with or without masks, of a student that tests positive for 15 or more cumulative minutes over the course of 24 hours. This applies to 48 hours prior to the positive test collected all the way up until the present moment. In accordance with the definition, close contacts may include classmates in in-person classes, according to Patel.

“In classrooms where there are less than six feet of distancing, even though that is considered safe by medical and public health standards, the definition of a close contact by the C.D.C. has not changed yet. I anticipate it will change at some point because we have increasing data that  it’s safe. But we still have to consider anybody that is within that six-foot radius of a student in class to be a close contact,” said Patel. 

The Wellness Center then broadens who would help them identify close contacts by looping in teachers and coaches to confirm or deny instances of close contact. This applies to sports such as crew, in which students would be within six feet of each other inside the boat.

According to Patel, honesty is necessary when it comes to identifying close contacts. Patel emphasized that there would be no disciplinary consequence for students coming forward and identifying themselves as close contacts even if they had not complied with the Non Sibi Safety Pledge, in order to encourage transparency for community safety. However, students who have difficulty following the Safety Pledge may be required to switch to remote status and sent home. 

“I think that it is important to underscore that the Non Sibi Safety Pledge is not a disciplinary contract. It is a set of community standards that are based out of our campus standard,, even [pre-Covid-19]. But they are a set of standards that we really want and need everybody on our campus to abide by to keep ourselves safe and open… if somebody is a close contact, we need people to be honest; it is actually really hard when people aren’t honest, and the entire public health contact tracing protocol, whether it’s on-campus or off-campus, relies on that honesty. The sooner that we know, the sooner we’re able to identify any potential risk and get people into a quarantine situation,” said Patel. 

Patel discussed the procedure for positive test cases in detail. Once a student tests positive, they go to the Wellness Center, where they can remain isolated from other community members. The student’s parents are informed of the test result before the student so that they know that their child is about to receive information that may be difficult to process. Then, the Wellness Center works to identify who has been a close contact. 

Within an hour of being informed of a positive test result, Sykes immediately communicates with the deans and house counseling team of the student who tested positive. The dormmates of the student, as well as their parents and guardians, are notified that somebody in the dorm has tested positive. However, in the interest of privacy, the name of the student is not revealed. Communication on the location of positive cases is strictly on a need-to-know basis, and thus, the entire campus community is not informed, according to Patel.

“We also want to make sure that we’re maintaining the privacy of the individual who has tested positive. And so we sometimes have to offer some vague details around that contact so we can confirm the close contact, sometimes it’s easy––my roommate––or sometimes it’s a little bit harder––this person that I did this project with. And so we do our very, very best to maintain confidentiality, and to respect privacy, but we can’t always maintain fully because it’s a public health issue. We ask everybody to have empathy, and to just try to maintain privacy for individuals as well,” said Patel. 

Parents or guardians of boarding students who tested positive would pick them up and take care of them off-campus for the majority of their recovery time. Since students who tested positive would not be able to use public transportation, they would have an adult designee who is within driving distance come to campus and stay in a space off-campus identified for isolation, according to Patel. Day students who tested positive would isolate in their own homes. After a 10-day minimum of isolation, students may return to campus. 

The low number of positive Covid-19 cases on campus has let Andover transition from Individual Testing to a Pooled Testing System, which evaluates tests in batches. According to Patel, this process is incredibly efficient and helps to get a turnaround on the tests much faster, allowing for convenience and quicker isolation of individuals who test positive. 

Many students have been adjusting to the new in-person classes, sports, and activities. Phillip Ko ’22, a Day student, is glad that he was given a greater variety of locations to study compared to the Fall Term.

“Only having one assigned carrel for work, either inside the [Oliver Wendell Holmes Library] or in [Samuel Phillips Hall], felt very isolating during the fall, and it feels really nice to be able to socialize with others (socially distanced) while working. I also think that our return to campus has been quite smooth; campus feels almost “normal” again,” said Ko.

Christine Lee ’23, a Boarding student, reflected on how the arrival quarantine affected her dormitory experience. Lee thought it was challenging to uphold Covid-19 protocols initially, but she enjoys the added freedom she has after quarantine.

“During arrival quarantine, I think that my dorm did pretty well maintaining distance and masking, although it was a bit challenging for many to resist the urge of hanging out with friends in the common room or in dorm rooms. However, now, we are able to take off our masks in the dorm, visit each other’s rooms, and walk freely around campus, so it has been very refreshing and energizing… In-person classes feel somewhat new/different because of how long I attended classes over Zoom, but it has been really nice to engage with my teachers and peers, and see many of them in person for the first time,” said Lee.

As the Covid-19 vaccine rollout continues, Andover will continue to explore potential options for student vaccination. Currently, 2.29 percent of the student body is at least partially vaccinated, according to the Andover Campus Public Health Update of April 2. The Wellness Center also is working to ensure that students get their full vaccination so that if they already had their first dose at home, they would be able to get the second dose off campus. The Wellness Center is providing transportation with vaccinated drivers to those seeking their second dose, in addition to those who are at high risk. 

“The easiest [way to distribute the vaccine to students] is if we can have a vaccination clinic on-site, but if that’s not possible, we’re thinking about some other ways that we can continue to vaccinate. I think it’s also important to note that we are following the state guidelines around looking at the most vulnerable and higher risk individuals first, prioritizing resources for anybody who has risk factors, and then going from there,” said Patel.