House Republicans Investigate Reemerging COVID Isolation Policies at University of Maryland

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
October 13, 2023Congress
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House Republicans Investigate Reemerging COVID Isolation Policies at University of Maryland
Chairman Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) speaks at a hearing of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 11, 2023. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Republican members on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic are launching a new investigation into the University of Maryland over an apparent effort to reprise its pandemic-era isolation policies.

“[The University of Maryland] seems to be reinstituting the same negative policies it implemented during the beginning of the pandemic at the expense of its students,” Subcommittee Chairman Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) wrote in a letter to university president Darryll J. Pines on Friday.

Mr. Wenstrup raised allegations that the university has begun removing students who test positive for COVID-19 from their dorms “without providing temporary housing accommodations.” He said the university now requires those who test positive to either isolate at a nearby hotel or return home.

The Republican lawmaker faulted to school for reverting to these “coercive and potentially harmful COVID-19 policies” after having requested and received $115 million in pandemic-era relief funds from the federal government under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, and the American Rescue Plan.

The University of Maryland updated its COVID-19 health policy page in September. The page states students who test positive for COVID-19 must leave any university-owned housing and isolate for a minimum of five full days. These students may end their isolation on the sixth day if they test negative with a COVID-19 rapid antigen test, and have been fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication like Tylenol or Advil, and have seen their other symptoms resolve or steadily improve.

While students who tested positive for COVID-19 may return to campus after the sixth day, they will have to continue to take precautions wearing a mask, avoiding areas where they can’t wear a mask, and avoiding eating at restaurants with others. Students with a dining plan are advised that they may request a sick meal to eat in their rooms.

The university’s COVID-19 health policy page provides an additional link for students going into off-campus isolation. That link does not specify how, or even if, students can be reimbursed for their isolation-related expenses, but does say students may be able to get a discounted rate for their hotel room if they book directly through the university.

“Presumably, it’s the students’ parents—not your university—that are footing the bill, which begs the question of how Maryland spent the federal Coronavirus dollars it received,” Mr. Wenstrup wrote.

Mr. Wenstrup called on the University of Maryland to provide details about its alleged isolation policies, including what impact the policies may have on student academic performance and what measures the university will take to assist students with their studies and mental health while in isolation. Mr. Wenstrup also asked how the university spent the $115 million in pandemic-era federal funds and whether it will financially assist any students displaced by this COVID-19 isolation policy.

Other members on the subcommittee’s majority signed onto the letter, including Reps. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Iowa), John Joyce (R-Pa.), Ronny Jackson (R-Texas), Michael Cloud (R-Texas), Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), and Rich McCormick (R-Ga.). The subcommittee is organized under the House Oversight and Accountability Committee.

“We are in receipt of the letter sent by the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic,” university spokesperson Katie Lawson told NTD News on Friday. “Throughout the pandemic, the University of Maryland has made decisions that prioritize the safety of our community and designed policies in full alignment with local and national public health guidance. During the public health emergency and today, we stay focused on the health and safety of our community.”

Ms. Lawson did not provide responses to additional questions about the university’s isolation reimbursement policies, or how it has used its pandemic-era federal relief funds.

NTD News also reached out to the subcommittee’s ranking member, Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), for comment on the subcommittee majority’s latest investigative efforts. Mr. Ruiz’s office did not respond by the time this article was published.

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