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UAlbany Student Health Services - “too COVID freaky,” or just taking necessary precautions?

By Victoria Kaltalioglu | October 11, 2021

Inside of quarantine room on Alumni Quad. (Video Credit: Jessica Cronk)

When a student is sick, they go to the on-campus health center. However, students who are sick with symptoms related to COVID-19 have recently had to make a tough decision: visit Student Health Services and risk getting put in quarantine or find treatment off-campus.

After FDA approval of the COVID-19 vaccine, the University at Albany mandated vaccines for all students and faculty. Masks are still required to be worn indoors. Students are able to get free COVID-19 testing through the university at Student Health Services, or SHS, if they feel sick. To minimize the amount of staff exposure, Student Health Services is not having in-person walk-in visits, a decision based on recommendations from the CDC.

If someone wants to go to the health center, the students must call ahead and tell them their symptoms. Then they will meet for a telehealth appointment, an online meeting. If the student needs to be seen in-person, SHS will schedule an in-person appointment. If their symptoms match with COVID-19 symptoms, the health center will ask for a COVID-19 test to be done through the school or a separate testing site. Students are then told to quarantine until their results come back negative. Students are given the option to quarantine at the student's permanent home or Alumni Quad, the quarantine housing in downtown Albany.

Jessica Cronk, a freshman at the university, called SHS on Sept. 10 with a sore throat that had been bothering her for some time. The 18-year-old from Long Island asked them for a strep test, because she was “prone to strep.” They told her she had to get a COVID test, and she would have to quarantine until the results came back.

“I had to fight for my strep test; they really didn't want to do it,” Cronk said. “After I was tested I was sent back to my dorm and was told someone would call me, but I ended up having to call them.”

Cronk chose to quarantine in the school’s quarantine housing instead of going home. Her pickup time was the following Monday at 6:30 p.m. She was told someone would call to let her know to come outside, but 90 minutes later, she still hadn’t received a call. When she called to see what was taking so long, they said she was supposed to wait outside. It was after 8 p.m. when she was picked up for quarantine.

A couple days before this, on Sept. 7, 21-year-old Tyler Ross had a sore throat and thought it could be strep. The junior from Buffalo went to SHS to ask for antibiotics, but they turned him down because they weren’t doing in-person walk-ins.

“I think it’s kind of pathetic honestly,” Ross said. When he called SHS, he was told he would need to get a COVID-19 test and to quarantine. “I knew I didn’t have COVID. I never got COVID once.”

Ross decided he didn’t want to go through the school for his COVID-19 test, so he went to a nearby urgent care. Instead of going to Alumni Quad like Cronk, he quarantined at a family friend’s house.

Both students received their negative test results within a couple days; for Ross it was only a day later on Sept. 8. Despite this, he had to miss a number of days before he was let back on campus.

Once a student gets their negative COVID-19 test results, they receive a message with directions on how to upload the results so that the Office of Emergency Management can approve it and release the student from quarantine or isolation. As for any delays, Jordan Carleo-Evangelist, the university spokesperson, said, “If documents are not uploaded correctly - or at all - or if there is a lack of communication from the student to the Office of Emergency Management, that can cause delays.”

Ross had uploaded the results at 4 p.m. the day he received his results, but wasn’t approved to come back to campus until 1:30 p.m. the next day. “I couldn’t even get onto campus. I had to reach out,” Ross said. “I think I made like five calls to get approval to get back, and it still took an extra day.”

He missed three classes on Tuesday and Thursday, which meant he lost a week’s worth of in-class instruction.

“The University is absolutely mindful of the imposition that being placed in isolation or quarantine can pose, and we’re doing everything in our power to minimize that,” Carleo-Evangelist said in response to Ross’ complaint. “Going into isolation and quarantine is not about you, it’s about protecting the people around you – your roommates, your family, your professors and their families.”

Things weren’t any easier for Cronk, the freshman who was quarantining at Alumni Quad. “The day that I tested negative, I didn’t have a ride set up, and they didn’t give me the confirmation that I could come back,” she said. “And they just stopped giving me money for food - I had to use my own money for food that day.”

Like Ross, Cronk had to call different people to figure out what was going on and when she could go back to campus. Even her mom got involved, calling to try and find anything out. “It really feels like you’re alone,” Cronk said. “In the end I was never even treated and nobody could even tell me what was happening during the entire process.”

The ASP reached out directly to Student Health Services to get a comment on these concerns, but they were unavailable for comment at this time.

Cronk suggested that SHS should have “a set department to talk to about overall questions and concerns” that students going through this process have access to.

The university’s COVID-19 policies were developed under the direction of the Albany County Department of Health. “We understand and are sympathetic to this frustration, but the university cannot risk sending someone who may be COVID-19 positive back into a communal living setting until we are reasonably certain they are not a risk to those around them,” Carleo-Evangelist said.

Even if these precautions are necessary for the safety of students and faculty on campus, it’s deterring some students from going to SHS if they’re sick. “The way they are handling this will lead people to never come to them when they’re sick which will probably make COVID cases go up,” Cronk said. “I won’t be going back for any reason.”

This sentiment was echoed by Ross, who said, “They’re too COVID freaky. I think all students should avoid Student Health Services. I know I will.”


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