On Sept. 8, Provost Robin Morgan sent an email to university faculty members outlining updated protocols for teaching this semester due to a spike in positive COVID-19 cases on campus. The email and attached guide provided procedures for professors regarding general health and safety protocols, expectations for face-to-face and online instruction and what to do if they or a student tests positive for COVID-19.
Instructors may now temporarily move classes online for two weeks if they do not have the class attendance necessary to conduct class in person. Additionally, “if an instructor is notified by a student that the student has COVID-19, the instructor may not tell the class that someone has tested positive for COVID-19,” Morgan said in her email. Professors are to let Student Health Services (SHS) notify anyone who has been deemed to be in ‘close contact’ with those testing positive for COVID-19.
“Every school district in the country, every college, every public school system, they’re all grappling with how do we do this, to keep people safe,” Earl Smith, instructor of sociology, Africana studies, women & gender studies at the university said. “And here’s the University of Delaware, saying, you can’t talk. Absolutely, you can’t tell students that their classmates have tested positive. Now we understand HIPAA. We understand all the rules and regulations and so forth about student health. But believe me, when you start looking at the half a million plus people who are dead from this virus, it’s real. It’s real enough to say, how do we address it in these confined spaces?”
The protocols were met with a wide variety of reactions from faculty members and the national news.
“The University of Delaware is back in the news, and not for good reason,” Lawrence Duggan, a history professor at the university said. “And I don’t know what they’re thinking on this particular matter and who came up with this particular form of idiocy.”
To respond to faculty concerns, Vice Provost Matthew Kinservik met with faculty members on Sept. 9 to explain the policies. In the meeting, he emphasized the need for masks in all campus buildings and encouraged professors to consider their course size and type of course pedagogy to decide if they should temporarily move online due to low attendance.
“I understand that it’s articulated as this admonition against telling [students about positive cases in classrooms],” Kinservik said. “But really the impulse was to not make this information, and the sharing of it, dependent on a positive case in a class where a professor is electing to do it, but to push it out to everybody all at once. No matter what.”
Morgan urged faculty members to let SHS on campus notify those who have been in close contact with people testing positive for COVID-19. She also added that instructors should make a general announcement to their class to tell students that “because we are masked while in class and a very high percentage of students and faculty are vaccinated, there is low risk of catching COVID-19 while in class.”
Per the Centers for Disease Control guidelines, ‘close contact’ is defined as being within six feet of an individual for 15 minutes or more within 2 days prior to illness onset, regardless of whether the contact was wearing a mask.
Faculty members also voiced their lack of confidence in SHS contact tracing efforts.
“To be able to contact trace you have to know who you’re looking for,” Smith said. “And if you’re involved in all this secrecy you can’t do it effectively.”
Between Sept. 8 to Sept. 10, there were 345 new positive cases of COVID-19 on campus.
“I very much doubt that Student Health Services has the human power to carry out [contact tracing],” Duggan said. “They simply don’t have the resources and, and I don’t think anyone’s going to do that kind of thing and I don’t know whether the administration in coming up with this kind of thing, is to put it politely is legally trying to cover its ass, which is often the motivation with the administration.”