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Students navigate medical hold, quarantine and isolation procedures

Channing Wang/Thresher

By Sumin Yoon     10/20/20 10:30pm

When students call Student Health Services with symptoms that overlap with the broad symptoms of COVID-19, they may be placed on medical hold. Although the purpose of a medical hold is to contain a potential infection, students have shared concerns regarding communication.

According to Jerusha Kasch, Rice’s director of Institutional Crisis Management, and Lisa Basgall, Infection Control Group supervisor on the Crisis Management Team, medical hold is a short-term practice that requires symptomatic students to socially and physically distance until medical providers can determine if the student is suspected to have COVID-19 or not. 

Basgall and Kasch said that medical hold is different from quarantine and isolation: Quarantine is required when students have exposure to someone with COVID or COVID-like illness, while isolation is required if a student tests positive for COVID-19 or shows symptoms of COVID. 

Molly Wancewicz, a senior at Brown College, said she was unexpectedly put in medical hold when she called Student Health Services to receive treatment for a sinus infection, which Wancewicz said is a common occurrence that usually goes away with antibiotics.

After disclosing her symptoms to the medical staff, Wancewicz said that she was asked to not leave her room until she was able to talk to the physician at Student Health Services. Wancewicz’s medical hold lasted for 24 hours.

“I had a video call with the doctor and I let her know that I had a lot of these before and that I had already tested negative three times while having the sinus symptoms,” Wancewicz said. “She said in case it is a weird manifestation of COVID, I had to go to the symptomatic testing [site] and isolate until the results came back.” 

Kasch said that medical hold is put in place to contain a potential spread since COVID symptoms are difficult to distinguish from other common illnesses.

“When students came back to campus early on, we had students who were symptomatic, not positive tests, but had COVID-like symptoms,” Kasch said. “They can also be symptoms of something else — sore throat, allergies — and so when you have both and you don’t know which is which, we have a medical hold process that allows us to keep those students separate until a medical provider could determine or diagnose what they are looking at.” 

Shivani Gollapudi, a freshman at Duncan College, said she was put in quarantine during Orientation Week because she was exposed to someone who had feverish symptoms.

“That person got tested and they were negative for COVID, and both myself and my roommate were also negative and everyone else who was in contact with that person were also negative,” Gollapudi said. “We still had to complete the full 14 days in quarantine.”

Gollapudi said that although she understood the precautionary measures, she felt frustrated that she was still required to quarantine despite the negative test results for COVID.

“It seemed like there was no outbreak because everyone tested negative multiple times, yet we still had to stay in our rooms and that seems more of like an inconvenience to me,” Gollapudi said.

Basgall said that the decision to release students is made on a case-by-case basis.

“The physician’s clinical judgment has a big impact on this and the person’s symptoms and how they feel over a period of time have a big impact on this,” Basgall said. “There is no 100 percent black-and-white clear path that will always be this way in this circumstance and I think that is what makes this challenging for a lot of people.”

Wancewicz said that although she appreciates the medical hold policy and the cautious attitude, she believes students should be informed about the possibility of a medical hold if they call Student Health Services to report symptoms.

“It should be public information,” Wancewicz said. “If someone seeks help for allergy medication or menstrual cramps or something because those are things that can cause a runny nose or body aches, they should know that [medical hold] could happen even if it’s not COVID.”

Gollapudi said she was concerned that potentially symptomatic individuals may refrain from reporting out of fear of getting placed on medical hold or isolation, especially as the flu season begins.

“My only fear is that if there is no flexibility between distinguishing between COVID-19 versus non-COVID-19 then people will be even less inclined to report their symptoms and I really hope that doesn’t happen,” Gollapudi said.

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