After Housing Students in the Fall, Wendt Shifts Back Into Isolation Space

After serving as a residential housing option for upperclassmen students during the fall semester, the Wendt University Inn recently resumed its role as a temporary isolation space for students who have tested positive for COVID-19. Located at 175 Utica Street in the Town of Hamilton, the space will soon begin renovations back into a hotel, now owned by the university, set to begin in early February but delayed as Colgate continued to rely on its isolation space, according to University President Brian Casey. The renovation fo the space into a hotel, Casey said, is necessary for Colgate’s plans to host commencement weekend’s for both the graduating class of 2022 and the class of 2020, as well as two reunion weekends in June.

According to the Quarantine and Isolation page of Colgate‘s website, individuals who test positive for COVID-19 must isolate immediately. The terms quarantine and isolation are not synonymous; the former refers to guidelines for close contacts who represent a risk of testing positive after exposure, and the latter describes procedures following a positive test result. An individual can leave isolation if they are symptom-free or their symptoms are resolving, and if they test negative with an antigen test after five full days, counting either from the date they tested positive or when they started feeling symptoms. Individuals must stay isolated for the full 10 days if they test positive after the fifth day. 

Sophomore Yuka Aoyama was placed in the Wendt the night of Tuesday, Jan. 25, after receiving a positive result from an at-home antigen test taken with the onset of mild symptoms. Although Aoyama arrived at her assigned room alone, the next day she was surprised to find out she would be staying with a roommate.

“They won’t even tell the roommate that they have a roommate,” Aoyama said. “They’re just like, ‘Oh, here’s your room number and a key.’ So they’re shocked, I’m shocked.” Aoyama added that she suspected there were several open rooms next to hers, and voiced confusion as to why roommates were assigned before other rooms were filled. Joseph Hernon, Associate Vice President for Emergency Management, responded to these concerns, saying that Colgate is doubling students in isolation to prepare for the potential of high numbers of positive cases upon and after arrival. 

“We are doubling up students. That was based on early planning in order to make sure we had enough space. We were initially worried we might have 300 cases right from the start [of the semester]. We did not have that many, but our volume and trend of cases has not gone down and space still remains a concern and a metric we watch closely,” Hernon said. “There are some open rooms but they seem to get filled just as fast as we clean them.”

As of Tuesday, Feb. 8, Colgate’s Health Analytics Dashboard reports 106 active student cases, a student infection rate of 3.5%. 

According to Colgate’s Quarantine and Isolation page on the website, those who are fully vaccinated and eligible for a booster but not yet boosted, as well as those who are exempt from vaccination for medical or religious reasons, are required to quarantine for five days when reported as a close contact. After the quarantine period, individuals are provided an antigen test — if the test comes back positive, they must begin their isolation period, and if it yields a negative result, they may return to their residential living spaces. 

First-year Sabrina Nguyen was placed in the Wendt last week due to being identified as an unboosted close contact, unable to obtain her booster vaccine before arriving at Colgate for the semester. Although she received a negative rapid test result upon arrival to campus on Monday, Jan. 24, Nguyen’s suitemate tested positive the following day, necessitating her quarantine.

“While I packed for [the] Wendt, at first I was excited because I always thought [the] Wendt looked nice and I was excited to have a room by myself,” Nguyen said. “The following day, I found out my results from the PCR on Monday and the whole time, it was negative … [so] I started to worry I might test positive on Friday because I was in a house full of positive people.” 

Despite her concern, Nguyen eventually received a negative PCR result on Friday, Jan. 28 and was able to leave quarantine. 

According to Campus Safety Compliance Manager Brittany Fuller, the university evaluates quarantine and isolation on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration a student’s circumstances and the availability of space in designated on-campus buildings.

In order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 upon the start of the spring semester amid the surge of the omicron variant globally, all students were required to test upon arrival to campus in January and were administered antigen testing again five days later. Originally requiring pre-arrival PCR tests but amending their policy in light of nationwide testing shortages, students who arrived to campus without a negative test were required to get one along with an antigen test upon arrival, where those who brought proof of a negative test only underwent rapid antigen testing. For Casey, the biggest shift in the Colgate’s pandemic posture came with the decision to cease mandatory regular for all students. (Weekly testing, however, remains required for the small number of those who have approved medical or religious vaccine exemptions.)

“I do think Colgate’s decision to shift the testing decisions to the students was the beginning of a different frame, whereas a lot of our peers […] are [mandating testing], we shifted to ‘you test when you want to.’ That was a decision both epidemiological but also relational, I really applaud the task force for saying ‘we’ve really got to start treating students as if this is your safety that you have to manage,'” Casey said, noting the improvement in the student-administration relationship with the change in posture from last school year, which he said was hard on students and staff alike. 

The university currently offers worried and well PCR testing for all students by appointment on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays in James B. Colgate Hall’s Clark Room and plans to offer more COVID-19 booster shot clinics for those who will become eligible over the coming weeks, according to senior Becca Overton, an emergency medical technician who administers vaccines on campus.