Coaches Step Up to the Plate for Quarantining Students

Athletics staff serve as case managers offering assistance and advice for students living in temporary housing
Brendan Casey carries a bag of groceries beside modular housing. Tufts Athletics staff serve as case managers offering assistance and advice for students living in temporary housing
Brendan Casey, an assistant baseball coach, carries a bag of groceries to the mods, part of the effort to help students in isolation and quarantining from COVID-19. Photo: Alonso Nichols
October 27, 2020

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Being a student on campus these days is challenging—but just imagine what it’s like for those who either test positive for COVID-19 or might have been in contact with someone who did, needing to isolate or quarantine.

That’s where a large group of athletics coaches and staff have stepped in to help. They are working with the Dean of Student Affairs Office (DOSA) to act as case managers for students living temporarily in the “mods”—housing set aside for those test positive for COVID-19—and those who need to quarantine off campus because they might have been exposed to the virus.

As case managers, the coaches and athletics staff often talk daily with the students, offer resources, bring needed supplies—even if it’s a bag of Doritos—and act as a sounding board, all in addition to their full-time coaching jobs.

“The case managers are the students’ point of contact for any questions or needs they have, and work with the students throughout their entire time in quarantine or isolation,” says Erin Flood, A10, associate director for student outreach and support, who oversees the effort.

As the fall semester was about to start, DOSA administrators knew they didn’t have enough staff to offer individualized support to the isolating or off-campus quarantining students. (Residential Life staff deal directly with students quarantining on campus in residence halls.)

They reached out to John Morris, director of athletics, and asked for help. Athletics Department coaches and staff immediately volunteered—they had already agreed to help returning students get settled in.

Jumping in to Help

Now nine coaches and staff act as case flow managers, on call 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week, handling logistics and orchestrating workflow. They respond to initial notification from health services about a positive diagnosis or case of possible contact with someone who tested positive.

They assign each student to one of more than 25 case managers, who gets in touch right away, offering assistance in a time of rapid adjustment, including emotional support, troubleshooting challenges, and connecting them to campus resources. The case managers try to check in with the students regularly via Zoom or telephone or text.

“We just jump in and say, ‘Listen, we’re here for you. How can we help? If you’re on the way to the mods, don’t forget your chargers, some water, a snack, all those types of things. When you get there, call us,’” says John Casey, A80, baseball head coach and lead case flow manager.

Offering encouragement and advice is a role the coaches fill naturally. They have always had daily interactions with students, and understand their needs, personal and academic.

“One of the reasons we went to the athletic staff is because we thought, here’s a group of people who already work regularly with students—they understand the student experience and they’re used to helping students move through challenges,” says Flood.

Connecting with Students

“It’s been a way to connect with students and let them know someone’s here for them that can help them, that can guide them, and that just cares—especially when those things can be a little tough,” says Casey. “It’s worked out really well.”

“We are serving as those supports throughout their time,” says Mike Schmidt, assistant coach of cross country and track, “and learning what they might need if they’re in the mods or just how everything’s going. We’re trying to make it as smooth a transition into quarantine and out of it as possible.”

Working as a case manager gets Schmidt in touch with the wider campus, too—something not always possible when he’s focused solely on coaching. “It’s nice to connect with other parts of the campus community, and to be reminded that we’re all part of the same team—it’s all one Tufts trying to help everyone stay safe and together,” he says.

The students involved have all been grateful for the help and connections. “The feedback I’ve gotten from students has been overwhelmingly positive about their interactions with the case managers,” Flood says. “They sometimes are confused about what they’re supposed to do, or something is distressing to them, and once they talk to their case manager, they feel much better.”

“The students have been incredibly respectful and understanding,” says Schmidt. “They’re bummed and they wish they didn’t need to be quarantining. But they have had a real understanding of why it’s important.”

It’s all part of the larger goal of helping the university stay open, everyone involved says. “We are hoping that we can do our part as coaches to help keep everyone here this semester—and hoping for the same next semester, too,” says Schmidt.

Taylor McNeil can be reached at taylor.mcneil@tufts.edu.