Positive COVID-19 case at Dewick incites worry, anger from workers over protocol

The Dewick MacPhie Dinning Center is pictured on Sept. 24. Nicole Garay / The Tufts Daily

There was a recent upset among workers in Dewick-MacPhie Dining Center after an employee tested positive for COVID-19. The dining hall was only closed for the morning after the employee was found to be positive, but other employees thought it should be closed all day, and that protocols for COVID-19 closures should be made clearer and consistent across all dining centers on campus. 

The case was found in the early morning of Dec. 11. Patti Klos, director of dining and business services, sent an email to Tufts Dining staff and UNITE HERE Local 26 union members the following day. 

“Dewick, like our other Dining locations, is deeply and routinely cleaned every night between when it closes and reopens the next day. Such was the case here,” Klos wrote in the email. “Even though the facility was already clean, upon learning of the COVID positive case, we kept Dewick closed so that it could be re-cleaned, including electrostatically disinfecting the servery.”

However, some Dewick workers took issue with the way the situation played out. Enza Navarra, a Dewick worker who arrived for her Dec. 11 shift at 6 a.m., said that to her understanding, higher-up dining staff were aware of the positive case since 2 a.m., but did not notify the workers before they came into work.

“A little bit after starting work, Jesse, my manager stopped us from working and had a meeting, [he] said someone who worked the night before tested positive,” Navarra wrote in an email to the Daily.

To address some of the staff’s concerns, Klos invited Michael Jordan, university infection control health director, to speak at a town hall meeting later that day with Dewick staff.

A union member herself, Navarra cited some of the questions that other union members and Dewick workers brought up in the meeting with Jordan. 

“Union members asked [Jordan] why we did not close, like other units have previously, out of abundance of caution,” Navarra said. “The University, [Jordan], and management just kept saying we did not have authorization to go home.”

Navarra pointed out that other dining locations have closed down for a day after an employee or their close contact tested positive for COVID-19. For instance, Navarra said that when there was an incident at Carmichael Dining Center in November, everyone was home for the day, given a test and told to wait for the negative results before reopening.

“I told managers [it] was not right to handle the situation this way when other units handled the situation differently,” Navarra said.

However, Patrick Collins, executive director of media relations at Tufts, explained that the current state health guidelines do not necessitate the closure of a dining location in the case of an individual testing positive. 

“The Somerville Board of Health has determined that, in the event of a COVID-19 case, closing a dining facility for 24 hours is not necessary,” Collins wrote in an email to the Daily. “Instead, in addition to the careful COVID cleaning protocols that Tufts follows in each of its facilities, it employs enhanced cleaning methods in the event that it learns of a positive case.”

Collins highlighted that the measures and protocols that Tufts employs are in compliance with local health guidelines

“Marathon Health contact tracers, following guidelines established by the CDC, determine which co-workers are close contacts and inform those individuals to quarantine,” Collins said. “Managers inform co-workers when they learn of a positive case, and continue to communicate with them as needed as health professionals and authorities assess each individual situation and determine the appropriate response.”

According to Navarra, though, these guidelines are not strictly enforced in the workplace. 

“The manager reassured us that everyone [who was a close contact with the COVID positive person had been asked to isolate]. This is not true, the managers worked with the COVID person the night before, and some employees too,” Navarra said. 

Navarra generally criticized the lack of transparency and standardization in the ways that Tufts Dining has handled COVID-19 in its facilities. 

“There have been on-going problems related to [COVID-19], more than necessary,” Navarra said. “As a worker in Dewick, and a Union member, [we] continue to raise concerns, we never know the truth behind the way things are handled.”

Collins said that Tufts Dining operates with the highest priority for employee and student safety, outlining several protective measures that the university has taken to ensure employee safety in the workplace, such as providing face masks, implementing social distancing, changing food preparation and delivery methods to reduce face-to-face contact, providing free COVID-19 testing twice a week and adopting more cleaning and disinfecting standards. 

Still though, Navarra said the administration needs to be more transparent with the workers. 

“We need to know how the contact tracing is done, if ALL the possible close [contacts] have been quarantined … how fast the process is … [Whoever] is … responsible [or] in charge of contact tracing [has not done the job properly], putting [the] lives of others … at risk,” Navarra said.