Quarantined on campus
Students speak about their quarantine experiences and share their frustrations surrounding access to necessities and inconsistent information from the Brandeis Health Center and Community Tracing Program.
Five semesters ago, it likely would have been difficult for students at Brandeis to imagine quarantine ever being an integral part of college life. Since Brandeis reopened and welcomed students back to campus following the near-complete shutdown of campus in spring 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University has had to devise plans and strategies for when students contract the virus. Over the past two years, terms like “contact tracing,” “quarantine,” and “isolation housing: have become a standard part of Brandeis students’ vocabulary. However, quarantine and isolation on campus due to exposures and positive tests have proved to be a struggle for many students who have faced difficulties concerning food, classes, and communication from the University.
According to the University website, students who test positive or who have been exposed will be contacted by the Golding Health Center. The “Testing Positive” page states that isolation housing and protocols are decided on a case-by-case basis, “following clinical, CDC and Massachusetts Department of Public Health guidance.” It is up to the Brandeis Contact Tracing Program how and where students will isolate, depending on their situation. The location of a student’s isolation depends on clinical factors and available space. The Quarantine FAQ page states that on-campus students will quarantine in their residence halls. Many students have had differing experiences concerning quarantine. The Justice spoke to two students who had to quarantine in their room and one who was moved to isolation housing.
For two first-year students, orientation at the beginning of the year was disappointing as they had to quarantine for about five days after their arrival on campus. The Justice spoke to them about their experience on Feb. 4. They were exposed to a positive case on their first night on campus and were quarantined in their residence hall, only leaving to get food and use the restroom. “I found out from a call from my roommate, in which she told me that the contact tracing [people] told her to tell me that I should quarantine. It was not until four days later that they contacted me,” said Caitlyn Pennie ’25. For Pennie and her roommate, their biggest problem with quarantine was the mixed, unclear information they were given by the Brandeis Community Tracing Program.
One major instance of confusing instructions concerned their meals. “At a certain point they closed the Stein, where I was instructed to get my quarantine food, so I had to go down to the dining hall and ask [the dining workers] to help me pack a box of food,” Pennie’s roommate said. “I had to stand there and explain what had happened because they were also out of the loop.”
The roommates were also confused about when they would be let out of quarantine. When they were first told they had to quarantine, they said that the information they received about when they would be let out was confusing and inconsistent. Pennie was told that her isolation would end after 10 days or after she had tested negative twice, but her roommate was told that it would last 10 days and would require two negative tests. They ended up only needing to test negative twice to be released from quarantine and did not have to remain quarantined for a full 10 days. This information was initially shared with Pennie, but not her roommate. “Since Caitlyn’s contact tracer had faster communication with her, she was let out a day earlier than me because my contact tracer did not get back to me in a timely manner,” Pennie’s roommate said.
While Pennie was let out before her classes started, her roommate wasn’t, which created some issues. Not all professors had set up a Zoom option, so she had to miss some of her classes on her first day of college. Overall, Pennie and her roommate consider their quarantine a frustrating experience and wish that they had been given clearer information.
The Justice also spoke to another student who was quarantined last semester, Zoe Popovic ’23. In early October 2021, their boyfriend tested positive, so Popovic had to quarantine in their room as they were a close contact. Popovic tested positive for COVID-19 a few days later and was moved to isolation housing in 567 South Street for the length of their isolation. Popovic was given a fair amount of information about their isolation over the phone after having tested positive, and eventually they also received an email that included a PDF with details about isolating, they explained to the Justice in a Feb. 3 Zoom interview.
When it came to their classes, Popovic had to email their professors and inform them that they would not be able to attend class. “With some classes, I was able to go over Zoom, [but] some didn’t have that set up as an option at this point,” they said. “So I did wind up missing, like, two weeks of some of my classes from the time I had to start isolating to when I actually got out of quarantine.” This was around midterms, which they called “a little frustrating” as they had to make up projects and tests after they got out of isolation. Fortunately, Popovic said, their professors were very understanding and accommodating, and they did not lose points for absence.
While in isolation housing, Popovic’s meals had to be delivered. Food would be dropped off outside their room around noon, but they said the timing of these drop-offs were “a little unpredictable.” While Popovic said this was not a huge deal for them because they don’t usually wake up early or eat breakfast, they acknowledged that this would likely have been inconvenient for students who do. The food was also limited — students in isolation housing did not have a choice of what their food would be other than requesting a vegetarian option. Popovic, who is a pescatarian, said the vegetarian meals were very repetitive and relatively unappealing. “It was a lot of just rice and beans with some kind of wet vegetables on the side, which gets pretty old pretty quick,” they said.
While quarantining is key to limiting the spread of COVID-19, it can put a strain on those having to isolate. “The worst part was just not being able to go outside,” Popovic said. “Not even a little walk, which is understandable, but it was a little mentally draining to just be cooped up in the same two rooms for 10 days.” Popovic was grateful, though, that they were allowed to quarantine with their boyfriend, so they did not have to spend 10 days completely alone. They also talked with friends on Zoom, so they were not cut off completely from socializing for the entirety of their quarantine.
Although Popovic does not view their experience in isolation housing as bad, they say that there were some flaws in the system. “They told us to bring our own medications, so I had my prescription and Advil, but they didn’t really supply us with any medicine if we got sick,” they explained. “And I didn’t really have that on me, so we wound up not having some things that would have been pretty helpful.” They said that in the future they hope the University could be more clear about these rules or have a way for students to get access to medications while sick with COVID-19, such as cough medicine.
Popovic’s time in quarantine and isolation did come with some frustrations and they feel that communication from the school could have been clearer in some instances. Still, they consider their experience in isolation housing on campus to have been fine overall, despite these difficulties.
Quarantining is necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but the process of being contact traced and placed in quarantine or isolation on campus can be frustrating. While testing positive differs from being identified as a close contact, there are similarities between the experiences, and many students share the same criticisms. Access to food and other necessities, keeping up with coursework, and unclear instructions from the school all present their own unique challenges during the isolation period, leading to less-than-ideal circumstances in an already less-than-ideal situation.