The new Wellesley 100 isn’t a list of suggestions for enriching your four years at Wellesley, but the latest — and biggest — outbreak of COVID-19 infections in students since the beginning of the pandemic. The last two weeks before finals have been punctuated by virtual classes and professors and students unexpectedly falling sick at the most crucial time of the semester, with some calling for take-home finals and better testing protocols from the Wellesley administration.
As of now, students who test positive in a pooled PCR test must take a rapid test the following day. However, the current pooled system leaves one extra day between testing and quarantine that can make others vulnerable to infection, especially those with roommates or are in close contact with a positive friend.
“My roommate tested positive this week, and that’s all it took for the rest of [the block] to get it,” Wendy** said. “She developed symptoms last week but tested negative twice. We didn’t have a chance.”
Students must take the College Club-sanctioned PCR test to be quarantined in either of the two hotels. There is no current protocol for students who test positive on a self-obtained rapid test, except for a Wellesley-distributed rapid test and individual PCR at the College Club.
The speed of the College’s own testing system is also a cause of concern. Because of the current pooled testing protocol, it can take two days after pooled testing for a student to know that they have COVID-19. (A pooled test taken on Monday would come back on Tuesday; if a rapid test issues a false negative, the individual PCR will not come back until Wednesday.) In those two days, a student could spread COVID-19 to the community.
Wendy is still in quarantine, and is frustrated that there was not enough support for her roommate when she raised concerns about having COVID-19.
“They told her there was nothing she could do [except quarantine in her room] because she was negative, but that clearly wasn’t the case,” Wendy said, “and now we’re all sick.”
“Horrendous process”: getting in contact with Health Services while off campus
Elli Gurguliatos ’25 began experiencing symptoms on Friday, April 22, but assumed that her sore throat was from participating in the Scream Tunnel earlier that week during the Boston Marathon. She went home to Natick for the weekend to celebrate Orthodox Easter and took an at-home rapid test to make sure the sore throat was not COVID-19. The test came back positive.
“So that began my horrendous process of trying to get in contact with Health Services,” Gurguliatos said.
By then, it was Saturday afternoon, and Health Services was closed for the weekend. Gurguliatos ended up in communication with Newton-Wellesley Hospital, who she described as being not well-informed on College COVID-19 procedures.
“When I panicked and explained my situation, I was met with not a lot of compassion, a lot of condescension and a lot of snarkiness, which was not appreciated in that very stressful moment for me,” Gurguliatos said.
After taking a second rapid test by a different brand, which also came back positive, Gurguliatos again called the Health Services phone number, upon which she was told that Health Services would get back in contact with her on Monday.
Eventually, Gurguliatos uploaded documentation of her rapid test to the College’s portal. That evening, she received a call from the College’s contact tracers, who she described as “the first person to treat me with compassion.”
“She was the first person to say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry you’re not doing well,’” Gurguliatos said. “She asked me how I was feeling, which was the first [time] this whole day of phone calls. And then contact tracing provided me with a lot of information on what to do.”
Gurguliatos was able to tell the College that she was quarantining off campus at her home, and she filled out a form for contact tracing purposes. Health Services did not contact her until Monday morning, scheduling a visit for Tuesday.
“It cost me $20 to meet with her with the $20 copay for her to say, ‘I’m sorry you were sick, I’m glad you’re feeling better,’” Gurguliatos said.
She spent the next several days quarantining in her home, returning to campus at the end of the week. Gurguliatos ultimately expressed frustration on the College’s lack of procedure for when students test positive on a self-obtained rapid test — in fact, in various emails to the student body, administrators urged students not to take their own rapid tests and to rely only on the College’s system.
“I think it’s important to have clear guidelines on what one is to do if they’re testing positive, especially when Health Services is closed,” Gurguliatos said. “I know that on Saturdays, the College Club is only open for testing for about two hours, which doesn’t give a lot of flexibility for people.”
“Knowledge is power”: testing positive on your own rapid while on campus
Adriana Feldman ’25 received a notification on Saturday, April 23, that she was a close contact, which was not a surprise to her, as her roommate had already tested positive for COVID-19 and had been moved to a hotel. That evening, she felt unusually fatigued, so she took a rapid test that she had on hand because she works for the Wellesley Community Children’s Center (WCCC).
When the test came back positive, like Gurguliatos, she contacted the Health Services phone number and talked to someone at Newton-Wellesley Hospital. The next morning, she contacted her community director and house presidents, and she uploaded an image of her test to the COVID-19 portal.
Eventually, she was told she should go to the College Club and retest. Her rapid test at the College Club also came back positive. She later found out that she was not supposed to upload her proof of a positive test.
“I was supposed to inform people that I tested positive, but when you do that, it kind of shuts down the system, and it’s like you’re reporting a positive test that means that you shouldn’t test for the next 90 days,” Feldman said.
That area of the portal was meant for students who tested positive at home during breaks, not during the school year.
Feldman packed her things and waited at Alumnae Hall to be picked up and brought to the hotel. Originally, the transportation was supposed to arrive at 4 p.m., but she and another student while waiting there were then told it would not arrive until 4:45. The van did not come until about 5:50.
Feldman and the other student were then initially brought to the wrong hotel. Wellesley is currently quarantining students at two hotels: the Sheraton in Framingham and the Verve in Natick, with the Verve only used as overflow when the Sheraton is full. Feldman was supposed to go to the Verve.
“We had to chase down the bus driver before they left,” Feldman said.
She only arrived at the correct hotel at 7:00 p.m., three hours after she was originally supposed to leave campus and six hours after her positive test. From there, she was able to isolate for the week.
Feldman expressed some frustration at the College’s messaging that students should not take their own at-home rapid tests.
“That kind of surprised me, I must say,” Feldman said. “I think that knowledge is power in times like this. Wellesley assumes students have a lot of responsibility on COVID, and why not be consistent with that? Especially since I was given these tests, and I know some other students who were given rapid tests, because of their job and because they want to keep the children that they work with safe.”