The Case of Testing Positive: Recent Developments

With the third wave of the pandemic raging across the country, IITM has not remained immune. There has been an uptick in cases in the hostel zone and residential quarters, the return of the UG batch of 2019 was deferred indefinitely and fresh restrictions have been imposed to stem the tide of infections. Currently, ~150 students are COVID-positive, but this number is based on those who have reported, tested positive and been sent to Ganga. T5E, with inputs from the HAS, SGS and AAS, reports on the situation on campus. 

Since 90% of the students are double-vaccinated, breakthrough infections are expected to be mild. As of now, if the cases in the institute increase further, the admin does not plan to send all the students home. To do so would be irresponsible because it risks spreading the infection. The current preference is to contain cases in the campus and break the chains within. If the COVID situation goes south, a 7-14 day lockdown may be instituted, where students will remain in their rooms and food will be delivered to them. 

There are concerns among students that if they fall sick, they will not be able to complete their labs and workshops. However, the Academic Affairs Secretary (AAS) has stated that arrangements have been made for students to make up the sessions that they miss for medical reasons. Workshops will be conducted throughout the semester and students can compensate for the modules that they were unable to do. For students who miss NCA/NSO/NCC/NSS sessions, the Students’ General Secretary (SGS) stated that the usual practice is to do it with the next batch.

There is no update on the return of the 2019 batch, whose callback was indefinitely postponed due the increasing cases.  Students who are currently on campus may return home if they wish to, after mailing and obtaining permission from the CCW and CMO. However, students who test positive or are in isolation for suspected infection will, for obvious reasons, not be permitted to travel until it is determined that they do not have COVID. 

Recently, the administration declared Ganga as a quarantine hostel for COVID-positive students. On January 15th, the quarantined students were sent a notice, asking them to move to Mahanadhi hostel with all their belongings within the next two hours. An effective nudge was provided by the announcement that dinner would not be provided in Ganga.  With this short notice, more than 125 sick students were made to scramble and line up in front of Mahanadhi with their possessions for an hour till they could complete the formalities for intake. 

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Screenshot taken on 16/01/2022

This caused anxiety and panic among the affected students, many of whom have been on their feet since testing positive. Right from moving to TGH, to the COVID Care Centers, to Ganga – the continuous shifting has become an exhausting routine for the students. If quarantine is meant to isolate students and give them enough rest and care to recuperate, insti’s handling of the situation has had precisely the opposite effect. Many concerns were raised such as fatigue due to the multiple relocations, the mental health conditions of the patients, the health conditions of the patients with symptoms, and the general burn out of the students. None of these issues were entertained, and the administration did not accommodate students’ requests for a reasonably bigger time window (till next morning or 10PM the same day) to shift to Mahanadhi. 

The explanation furnished by the CCW Chairman for the immediate transition was the GCC guidelines, which recommend that quarantine facilities have lifts for emergency situations and easy movement of cleaning and medical staff. The Hostel Affairs Secretary (HAS) added that since Mahandhi had already been a quarantine hostel in the past, it is better suited for COVID care, in terms of sanitation and efficiency, when compared to Ganga. The SGS stated that the administration intended to use a tower hostel (which has all such facilities) like Mahanadhi from the beginning but, due to the urgency around students’ discomfort at CCCs, could only arrange for Ganga. With Ganga’s inability to accommodate the rising COVID-positive cases within the institute and the available medical personnel not adequate to manage two hostels at a time, the shift to Mahanadhi was imminent. 

The hasty shifting of hostels has been exacerbated by poor communication.. The notice to relocate was sent via WhatsApp and not a CCW smail, which initially prompted many students to question the authenticity of it. No official communication has been sent regarding the protocol to be followed or the quarantine period. Despite multiple requests and messages from the students, the authorities have not yet clarified the duration of quarantine, which remains an uncertain number, ranging from anywhere between 4 and 14 days. COVID-positive students demand to know why, if shifting hostels was done in accordance with GCC guidelines, could the quarantine period not be set at 7 days as mandated by the GCC. 

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Mail sent to Mihir Chawla on 15/01/2022

The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) mailed one student that COVID-positive students will be isolated for 10 days from the date of testing positive. According to the SGS, quarantine duration is decided based on symptoms. COVID-positive students will not be tested again, but will be discharged based on whether they have recovered from the symptoms that they were presenting with. Students who have completed the 7-day quarantine and the 10-day quarantine remain in isolation, uninformed and unclear on the next steps. It is evident that there is a great deal of inconsistency in the answers given by different quarters as regards the duration of quarantine for COVID-positive students. 

The current situation seems to be improving with regard to the way things are handled, but it has been at the cost of the wellbeing of students who were affected early.

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