At least one Resident Assistant (RA) tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday after attending in-person training, according to two RAs familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity for privacy purposes and fear of retribution.
The news comes after over 500 RAs arrived on campus for in-person training last weekend and as many RAs petitioned the University for expanded COVID-19 safety measures, threatening to strike indefinitely if their demands were not met.
According to University spokesperson Pat Harris, who also responded on behalf of Vaden Health Services and Residential Education, Vaden requests a list of close contacts and issues exposure notifications after an individual tests positive for COVID-19.
But according to multiple RAs currently on campus, in this case, the process unfolded differently.
An RA who requested anonymity for fear of retribution said that a group of about 12 RAs was in a Tuesday afternoon training session at Tresidder’s Oak Lounge when they heard about a fellow RA’s positive COVID-19 test. They were only informed because the individual who tested positive directly conveyed the news.
“That was the only information that we got about what we were supposed to be doing or what the situation was until Vaden contacted us hours and hours later,” the RA said.
Harris declined to comment on behalf of Vaden regarding the way the situation unfolded.
Following the news, the RAs who were exposed to the individual with COVID-19 said that they chose to leave training early. Vaden had not yet reached out to the students about their exposure. The group then emailed Vaden and received emails from Andrew Gray, the neighborhood program director, and their Resident Fellows in the meantime, but said that they were still left with no direction about conduct moving forward.
At around 9 p.m. PT — about 6 hours after the RAs first heard about the positive test — Vaden responded to the RAs with a set of instructions.
In individual emails to the RAs, Vaden first stated that vaccinated individuals do not need to quarantine upon exposure. But sentences later, Vaden told the RAs that they must quarantine until receiving their test results.
Another RA, who also requested anonymity for fear of retribution, said that Vaden’s response was “reassuring,” but added that they wished they had received the information sooner after hearing about the positive test.
“The irritation that was percolating in the dorm after the positive test was rooted in the idea that these protocols were not just listed somewhere, and easily accessible, and known to us, and that as a consequence, we weren’t certain what to do,” they said.
RAs were told that it was “almost statistically guaranteed” that someone would test positive, even if falsely, during RA training, according to the source. “So if you knew this was going to happen,” another RA who requested anonymity asked, “how was it not a bigger deal that someone tested positive?”
The same RA who shared information about the positive case notification said that their worries about contracting COVID-19 began on the second day of training, when half of the RAs crowded onto the stage of the Dinkelspiel Auditorium for an exercise.
“Even though everybody’s wearing masks, we’re intermingling between dorms and we’re around people whose vaccination status we don’t know, and it was just a little bit of an anxious experience for many of the RAs,” the source said.
The RA added that Gray offered RAs a chance to opt out of the in-person training, but failed to provide any alternative ways to learn or attend the training.
“It wasn’t really transparent to us whether there were options for people who were uncomfortable,” they said.
Gray did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Now, a group of about 20 RAs is working towards a plan of action moving forward.
“We’re really trying to take the right steps and do this the right way, because now is not the time to have an outbreak,” the same RA said, adding that a handful of people who tested negative will likely take notes and record the meetings for the rest of the group.
Training was held in-person on Wednesday, but shifted to Zoom for Thursday’s programming. Harris told The Daily that later trainings will be held in individual dorm communities instead of large group gatherings.
“In general, the one thing that our entire group can agree on is how much we care about making the right decision for as many people as we can,” the RA said.