Students at Frostburg State Concerned with Recent COVID-19 Spike on Campus

Athletic facilities at Frostburg State University. FSU photo.

This story has been updated to reflect changes in the number of COVID-19 cases on campus and in Allegany County.

After spending three days in self-quarantine with chest pains in her dormitory room, Jasmine, a junior at Frostburg State University, received a positive COVID-19 test result. The next day, she was transported to an off-campus hotel to isolate in a private room.

But not before facing many hurdles. When Jasmine, who did not want her last name published, initially called the Brady Health Center, the on-campus health provider, last week to explain her symptoms, which included chest pains and shortness of breath, she said she was told to go to the nearby urgent care clinic in town to get a COVID test. The university’s health center did not offer Jasmine testing on campus nor any transportation to get to an urgent care clinic.

According to The Bottom Line, a student newspaper, a friend drove Jasmine to the clinic, where she was able to get tested with her insurance.

Although she was experiencing COVID-19 related symptoms, Jasmine was initially not allowed to go to the off-campus hotel, Quality Inn in Frostburg, to isolate. Instead, she was given two options: to go home or to the emergency room.

But going home was not an option for Jasmine because she lives with her elderly grandmother. So she stayed in her dormitory in self-quarantine for three days until she received her positive COVID-19 test result last Thursday morning. Jasmine told The Bottom Line that she had trouble recording her positive result into the FSU COVID-19 portal because she had received her diagnosis over the phone. And FSU still did not allow Jasmine to quarantine in the hotel because of her symptoms.

Instead, the nurse at the health center told her to go to the emergency room Thursday evening, and she was discharged later that night. It wasn’t until Friday late afternoon when FSU transported Jasmine to the hotel to self-isolate.

“I was confused why I was in my room for three days with chest pain and chest pain wasn’t a problem until they got the positive test result,” Jasmine said. She thinks she should have been taken to the hotel to self-isolate while waiting for her test results because the only alternative for her was self-isolating in her dormitory hall, where other students live.

Brady Health Center is an “ambulatory care center, not an urgent care center,” according to an FSU news release Monday afternoon. This means that if a student is experiencing “severe symptoms” such as “chest pain or shortness of breath,” they must be seen at an urgent care center or emergency room, said Liz Medcalf, the director of Communications for FSU.

Students are sent to the Quality Inn for isolation only if they have documentation of a positive case or for quarantine because of an “identified close contact” in order to ensure that they do not require higher-level treatment, Medcalf continued. This means that students who are waiting for test results without documentation of a positive case or a close contact, like Jasmine, are not allowed into the hotel to isolate.

“Suspect positive cases should be in quarantine, not wait until they have a [positive] result and then quarantine, because between that period of time, you could be spreading the virus,” said Ismerai Reyes, a junior at FSU and an on-campus senator. “If you are symptomatic and clearly showing symptoms of COVID, that should be red flag right there.”

Jasmine said she was unaware that FSU was not allowing anyone with chest pains or shortness of breath into the hotel unless they had documentation of a positive COVID-19 result or an identified close contact.

“What I wish the university would have is transparency over their procedures because how are we as students supposed to feel safe if we don’t even know what’s going on?” Jasmine said.

On Oct. 29, FSU officials announced that they were transitioning to online instruction until at least Nov. 4 due to “larger-than-expected increase in self-reported positive COVID-19 cases and visits to Brady Health Center.” In the span of a night, the number of active cases on campus increased from 20 to 32 last week. Around half of FSU’s 4,100 undergraduate student population is living on campus or near campus, Medcalf said.

Not only were some students dissatisfied with the way FSU handled COVID-19 on campus, but staff members were too.

“The University Administration failed to bargain health and safety with AFSCME and failed to notify our membership of any increases in cases and community spread,” Danielle Dabrowski, President of Local 239 said in a statement Friday. “The failure to bargain and lack of transparency continues the trend by the Frostburg administration to go it alone, fail to meet their obligations to bargain with AFSCME and hurt the greater Allegany County community.”

On late afternoon Monday, FSU announced that it was pushing the date to resume in-person learning of blended classes by one day, to Nov. 5. The most recent COVID-19 dashboard as of Nov. 2 is from Oct. 17, when there was a positivity rate of 5.13%. The dashboard is updated every two weeks, Medcalf said. Meanwhile, Allegany County reported 46 new COVID-19 cases last Friday, and FSU made up a quarter of active cases in the county in the month of October — at least through Oct. 28, Medcalf said.

Tysean, a sophomore at FSU who also did not want his last name published, was able to get tested on campus when he told the Brady Health Center that he felt chills and had a headache two weeks ago. It took two days to get his test results, which came back positive, and he was sent to the Quality Inn to isolate soon afterwards. Tysean stayed at the hotel for 10 days and was let go without another COVID-19 test that confirmed he was negative. With the recent spikes in cases on campus, Tysean said he feels like FSU should shut down longer or at least make all classes online.

FSU “should require negative tests [for students] to get back on campus and begin interactions with other people,” Reyes said. She said she worries that some people are let out of quarantine too early and can still transmit the virus to others even when they stop feeling symptoms.

Medcalf said that FSU discovered that the increase in cases came from “symptomatic clusters,” or people within the same social circle. If there had been a community spread, FSU would have not made the decision to return to in-person instruction this week, she said.

Still, some students do not feel safe with the way FSU is handling COVID-19 cases on campus.

“They [FSU] are fumbling the bag hard…they were gently handed the bag and dropped it and lost it down the stairwell,” Jasmine said.

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