by TABITHA ROBINSON
Mary-Elise Alworth, a sophomore political science major, spent time with two of her friends on Saturday, Oct. 24. The following Monday she tested positive for COVID-19. Within two hours, she and her friends were moved to quarantine and isolation spaces on campus.
“I got an email from the surveillance testing. They said you’ve been randomly selected to come in on Monday. So I went in on Monday, got tested, felt fine—no symptoms…They called me back when I got my result, and the person was like, ‘Are you feeling okay? You tested positive,’” said Alworth. “A lot of things were running through my head: I feel fine. How long have I had it? How many people have I given it to? Are the tests accurate? I didn’t want to go home because my mom is immuno-compromised. So I packed up my stuff. My roommate and other friend went to Marshall to quarantine and I went to South Hall for isolation.”
Alworth said her main struggle was loneliness. “I was the most anxious I’ve ever been, just because I was alone—completely alone. That was really hard for me to deal with. I’m an introvert, so I thought it would be fine. Then I got there, and I was like, ‘I cannot do this.’ I don’t think there was anybody else living in that building at the time, or at least it didn’t feel like it! It was also very hard for me to focus on my assignments and go to Zoom class and pay attention.”
Freshman Kate Flowers, who was in contact with Alworth that Saturday, was put into a quarantine dorm in Marshall Hall, which she described as “creepy, lonely, smelly, and kind of anxiety-inducing.”
She said her life there was “repetitive—what do you do in there for fourteen days? You get up, take a shower, eat, maybe go to class? I had Val next door, so that helped a little bit. We sat in our doorways about 20 feet apart and talked to each other. One of my professors checked on me, which was really sweet. She was really understanding.”
Alworth’s roommate, Val Ortiz, a sophomore biochemistry major, agreed that being in Marshall was a lonely experience. “It was really sad. Time did go by fast because I had classes and a lot of work to get done, but I remember on the second or third day I was really emotional. I just kept thinking about how careful Mary-Elise and I had been and it just didn’t make sense.”
The social isolation and loneliness left them with a lot of time to think.
“The amount of unknowns—I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. Because we know so little about [COVID-19], I had so many questions, and I think that just overwhelmed me,” Alworth said.
Ortiz described her room as dark. “The light was like a hospital light. It was really cold in there so Betsy (the COVID care coordinator) brought me a space heater. And I did have a window, which I opened throughout the day to get some air. I hate being by myself, so if I had to stay in that building for nine more days, it would not have been great for my mental health.”
Three days later, Alworth got tested again and found out that she’d had a false positive. After three and a half days in quarantine and isolation, all three students tested negative and moved out.
“If I had gone home, I would’ve been even more anxious about potentially giving my parents COVID, so I’m really thankful that I was able to stay on campus, even though it was not the greatest experience,” said Alworth.
Betsy Southern is the COVID-19 care coordinator, but students call her the quarantine mom.
“I manage all the quarantine and isolation spaces on campus,” she said. “When a student is identified to go into either quarantine or isolation, I call them and set them up in their room, or give them the option to go home. I’d say 50 percent stay. I work with Chris Porter and Sodexo to get them menus, but most of it is helping them move in. I have four assistants who are also students.”
Her assistants help with laundry, food delivery and everything in between.
The students see Southern as a bright spot in the quarantine experience.
“The quarantine mom—Betsy—she’s very nice. She let my sister bring me a coffee; she would check on us and make sure we were doing okay,” Flowers said.
Alworth agreed. “Betsy would text me asking me how I’m doing and she or a volunteer would drop off my meals every day. I would get one delivery every evening around 4-5 and it would have my dinner and my breakfast and lunch for the next day. They’d send you an email with a Google form and you’d pick what you wanted. You could get desserts and snacks. It was pretty good.”
She said the contactless delivery made her feel even more isolated.
Southern has not run into any problems with quarantined students.
“All the students are amazing. They’re polite and gracious. It’s not been hard work,” said Southern. “There are on average two to three students in quarantine and isolation per week. It’s pretty tough on them. I’m available 24/7, my assistants are available to them. I’ve done Chick-fil-a night, I’ve done anything to make it a little more normal,” said Southern.
Under the quarantine buddy program, students can volunteer to text and call
a student in quarantine to keep them company. “They got me a texting buddy who texted me and asked how I was doing, so that was really nice,” said Alworth.
Flowers and Ortiz wished they could go outside. “I think it would be fair for the students who are in quarantine to be allowed to go outside, even if it’s for a certain amount of time or even if they’re supervised. It would have been really beneficial for me to go on a walk to get out of that building and be in fresh air,” said Ortiz.
Flowers agreed, “Let us go on a walk! Or at least go sit outside, just get some fresh air.”
Southern said it’s not a good idea, but she commends students for sticking through this semester. “I’m really proud of how the students have handled this semester. It is pretty difficult, but it’s not going to last forever,” she said.