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Do Students Actually Respond to Haverford’s Symptom Checking Emails?

In a time of much uncertainty there exists one constant that all Haverford students, faculty, and staff can rely on: the daily 4:33 am email. Sent from, it contains that day’s Covid-19 Symptom Checking Confirmation. 

Generated automatically, the email contains a link that directs the user to a short survey, which asks if they are currently exhibiting any symptoms of Covid-19. Additionally, the survey also prompts each individual to rate the college’s overall pandemic response and protocols on a scale of 1-10, with a 1 meaning “not well at all” to a 10 indicating “very well.” 

Symptom checking and contact journaling constitute two of the six pillars of Covid-19 safety protocols on campus. The other four include masking, biweekly testing, social distancing, and frequent hand washing.

Although a September 2 email from President Wendy Raymond indicated that responding to the survey was optional, an email sent by Dean Joyce Bylander on October 2 clarified that all community members should take the survey each morning. 

Dean Bylander’s email emphasized the importance of continuing to monitor and report symptoms. “Your daily responses help us understand how diligent we are being as a community over time,” she wrote to the student body. 

The survey simply asks community members to check “yes” or “no” depending on if they have considered their health and potential symptoms. It also reminds students to remain in their dorm rooms and contact health services, as well as their dean, should they be symptomatic. Employees are expected to stay home and report to their supervisor in the same scenario. 

However, the email has begun going ignored or getting forgotten by many. “I do [the survey] sometimes, but…it just comes so early and it’s hard to remember,” reflected Jonathan Hill ‘24. 

Hill isn’t alone in having this sentiment. Many students have found that the early timestamp often leads to the email getting lost amongst many other notifications and emails.

The survey is sent out to 1,800 students, faculty, and staff members each morning. According to Spencer Golden, the college’s Associate CIO and Director of Enterprise Systems, “The response rate varies quite a bit but tends to fall between 550 and 650 responses a day on weekdays. On weekends the response rate falls a bit to between 430 and 500 responses.”

Even when people do respond to the survey, some wonder how effective symptom checking can be in light of the unique challenges posed by the Coronavirus, including the wide range of symptoms that infected individuals present and, in many cases, the absence of any symptoms at all. One study has also found that as many as 40-45 percent of Covid-19 infections are asymptomatic. 

Considering this information, it’s no wonder some students are unsure of the true benefits of symptom checking on campus. “The symptoms are so varied I could imagine it’s very hard to tell if you are actually sick,” Ellie Kerns ‘22 notes.

In addition to symptom checking, Haverford expects community members to keep a contact tracing journal. The college defines close contact as an interaction within six feet and lasting 10 minutes or longer, regardless of whether the individuals are masked.

Some question how seriously the community has committed to monitoring their health and symptoms, as well as identifying their close contacts. “Most people I know don’t really care that much about it and don’t actually take into consideration the questions,” Ravi Eaton ‘24 said.

Plus, Ravi points out, symptom checking and contact tracing are only useful measures when everyone commits to them. 

“I have been regularly symptom checking and trying to do my best to limit close contacts and keep track of who I’m with,” he shared. “However I’m not sure how effective this measure is because it is only as good as the weakest link” he further added. 

Despite uncertainties about the success of symptom checking and contact journaling, as well as some inconsistencies in how regularly people are reporting, a number of students remain committed to these measures.

“I’ve been taking protocols very seriously,” explains Rachel Schiffer ‘23, who is currently living off-campus but commuting for classes. “The College going to Level 2 has a very big impact on me, as the difference between Level 1 and Level 2 for me is the difference between getting to see anyone in person during the week outside of class and not having any social contact.” 

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