Data Left Behind: 35 Staff and Faculty Tested Positive for Covid-19

Recent update regarding Covid-19 on campus showed that the four reported cases among staff and faculty from April 8 to April 11 failed to account for cases from the prior week, when the surge in positive cases first began. According to an email from Dr. Amy Patel, Medical Director at the Sykes Wellness Center, to The Phillipian, 159 students and 35 staff and faculty members had contracted Covid-19, between March 30 and April 19.

In that period, 12 staff and faculty reported positive test results between March 30 and April 5, a week before the cases for students surged between April 6 and 12. Many students have since raised concerns over the cause of the spike, mentioning the trend of absent faculty members on campus.

The reason behind the increase in cases remains unclear, although many students feel that it is likely the result of loosened protocols on campus. According to Ben Perez ’23, due to many teachers contracting Covid-19 over the last three weeks, some students feel that faculty members may also be a contributor to the rapid surge in cases.

“I think it was a combination of a lot of things. I definitely have heard that a lot of teachers tested positive, but I can’t confirm it. But if that’s the case, then I think that’s probably what happened and it makes sense. A lot of teachers have a lot of students in a closed room most of the time, so it makes sense how that could spread,” said Perez.

Patel refutes the belief that faculty were the primary cause for the recent spread in Covid-19 cases and cautions against making claims without clear evidence. Through her analysis of the positive cases amongst students and faculty, she found no direct correlation between the two groups that would imply faculty were transmitting Covid-19 to students.

“I think it would be speculation, and I actually really caution on speculation to say that there’s any connection between sort of the adult numbers and the student numbers going up, because I haven’t actually seen that there’s a link,” said Patel.

Patel continued, “I look to see if there are students and adults who are in particular dorms, sports teams, classes that are testing positive, because while I haven’t seen any evidence of spread in the classrooms and even in [Paresky Commons], the most spread seems to be among close familial or household contacts. I did actually have some information on which student facing adults were testing positive and what they do on campus just to be able to assess and see if there was any relationship and there wasn’t.”

Several students felt confused by the four faculty cases in the Covid-19 Update email sent out on April 11, having expected a greater number due to the many faculty absences that occurred throughout the week. Patel explained that the numbers were lower than expected because they only included positive cases from a three-day timeframe, and no cases from the week prior, in order to more clearly compare the number of cases from students and faculty.

Patel said, “We want people to know, [in between April 8 to 11], the student numbers went from here to here. In that same timeframe, the adult numbers went from here to here. And by putting that parallel out there, we were trying to give the same data points. What ended up happening is I think some folks said, ‘but what about the week before?’ We weren’t trying to hide it. We were trying to compare the student uptake and the adult data at the same time. We said the three day positivity rate, not to hide anything, but because that was the amount that was sort of showing this is actually pretty serious. The intent was to state the student positivity rate and then mirror with [the positivity rate of] the adults.”

Yasmine Tazi ’24 found the return to Fall Term protocols regarding masking and visitation unsurprising. There were multiple ways for Covid-19 to make its way onto campus, whether through faculty members or otherwise, that she felt increased positivity on campus was likely to occur.

“I expected Covid-19 to come back sooner or later. The fact that we were no longer getting tested while being free to go downtown meant that Covid-19 was going to circulate, although I greatly appreciated the freedom to no longer wear masks and live normally. Some students blame faculty members, some faculty blame students, but the truth is that [Covid-19] could have come from anywhere at any time,” said Tazi.

Patel believes that attaching a causation to the increase in cases is unhelpful and alienates the community from one another, particularly when the reason remains unclear. According to Patel, despite the difficult situation, it is important to remember that we share the same goal: for cases on campus to decrease so that we can return to normal.

“I think this could have easily been something that we saw in reverse, meaning that it could have easily been that we saw more students than adults testing positive, which we have, during parts of the pandemic. And putting a causation to that is actually unhelpful, because I don’t think students have spread to adults, and actually don’t think adults are generally spreading to students either. But it’s sort of an unhealthy, unhelpful, feeling. We don’t want to make it seem like we’re afraid of each other, we’re all the same. We’re all trying to be healthy and prevent spread,” said Patel.