Schools Debating Whether to Reveal Students' COVID Status

Boston University joins UA in not informing faculty, other students of infected students in their classes
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 2, 2020 6:33 AM CDT
Boston U Won't Disclose If Students Test Positive for COVID
Would you want your class to know?   (Getty Images/Ali Siraj)

University of Alabama professors aren't the only ones "terrified" of an administration directive on COVID-19 in their own classrooms. Last week, it was reported that instructors there received an email from higher-ups warning them not to reveal to the rest of the class if anyone in that class tested positive for the coronavirus—despite the school having "one of the largest coronavirus clusters reported at any academic institution," with cases surpassing 1,000. Now, Boston University professors have received a similar message, with the school's provost noting "the health of our community—faculty, staff, and students—is best served by ensuring the strict privacy of everyone's test status," per the Daily Beast.

Toward that end, per a message dated Aug. 24 from Dr. Jean Morrison, faculty won't be notified if a student in their class is infected, unless that student was in "close contact" with anyone (it's not clear exactly what that term means). According to Morrison, the reasoning is that the school's contact tracing efforts might be hampered if students don't feel like their privacy is being maintained. UA's policy similarly brought up student privacy, citing both HIPAA and FERPA laws. But experts say public health concerns during a pandemic like this would supersede these laws, and that it would be OK to tell students an unidentified classmate had tested positive. "They're trying to advertise how well they're doing testing and all that, but if we're not being made aware of it, how do we know how well this is working?" one grad student says. Classes resume Tuesday at BU, both on campus and virtually. (More Boston University stories.)

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