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Letter to the editor: Shortcomings in self-isolation after coronavirus outbreak

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McCosh Health Center

Dear Princeton campus community members,

We are a group of students who comprise part of the loving community of Princeton University. We have recently returned from China, and given the pressing circumstances of the 2019-novel coronavirus outbreak, we would like to draw attention to the careful sanitary measures voluntarily taken by us returned students and our efforts in sustaining the self-isolation policy. While we applaud the University’s timely announcement of its isolation policy, we would like to express our concerns over the University’s conduct toward the returned members during its implementation. This, we believe, has revealed Princeton’s institutional deficiency in protecting the safety of its members in the face of a public health crisis.


Many of us have been strictly following the emergency policies of WHO, the U.S. government, and Princeton University throughout the mandatory isolation period. More importantly, even before the University announced the requirement on Jan. 31 and after its revocation on Feb. 3, some of us voluntarily conducted self-isolation, going to public places with masks only when necessary. Partly due to the shared efforts of us and others who supported our self-isolation, there are currently no confirmed cases of novel coronavirus nor any indication of individuals exhibiting early symptoms within our Princeton community.

In this process, however, we have been facing challenges, some of which resulted from inappropriate management of the University. Not all students in self-isolation received food delivery from the University. Given the emergency of the situation, it is understandable that the University is facing challenges and cannot ensure extensive support to everyone. But many of us still insisted on strict self-isolation under this condition. We hold no hesitation of fulfilling our responsibilities out of the respectable altruistic concern for the health and safety of the entire community.

On Feb. 1, the University required some of us to move together into an annex building and a Lakeside apartment with shared bathrooms and kitchen, without considering the potential danger of cross infection. Alarmed by this very dangerous and irresponsible arrangement, we sent out a collectively signed letter on midnight of Feb. 1 to various offices of the University, requesting the University to provide bedrooms with independent bathrooms, food delivery, and disinfection materials. Instead of ignoring the potential risks, we insisted the University provide safe self-isolation housing, where we would be willing to move. Some of us moved into the assigned housing and were constantly fearing cross infection. Others voluntarily revealed their identities as self-isolating individuals to housemates in order to warn them of the potential health risks, despite severe emotional stresses. On midday of Feb. 2, the University refused to provide separate living units and kept delivering food to an empty annex where no one dared to live, in order to encourage students to move.

Students are vulnerable human beings, not viruses. We deserve to be respected and protected as anyone else on this campus. Each one of us has taken tremendous precaution to protect ourselves while staying in mainland China, while experiencing fear, pressure, and anxiety. Upon our return, instead of finding ourselves protected and safe, these policies and conduct nullified all prior efforts and put us in an unsafe environment.

While deeply hurt and worried, we have also observed a growing tension between the returned individuals and those who share the same facilities. Conflicts which could have been avoided were unfortunately nourished. Unpleasant language targeting Chinese people has appeared on various platforms across the campus.

We are all in this together, regardless of our backgrounds. We never attempted to be negligent in our quarantine efforts, but we will not endure any inhumane treatment that no one in this society deserves. We should work together to make sure such things never happen again. Therefore, we ask that the University be more transparent in its conduct of quarantine policies and amends its current public health protocols, for the well-being of the entire community. We have faith that Princeton will not fail the returned students who are under pressure and need help — that Princeton will not fail in trying its best to protect the community in the face of any future public health crisis.


Finally, we highly appreciate your understanding and support during this difficult time. It is the virus that harms people, not innocent individuals. We hope that we can all stand strong together in defiance of the disease.

Editors note: Due to the sensitive nature of this piece, the authors have been granted anonymity.

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