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A peek behind the curtain of quarantine

I was one of the people quarantined as part of an effort to contain The Fourth Goodhue Outbreak (you know the one). When I got the call that I was being moved into one of Carleton’s reserved quarantine spaces, I really had no idea what to expect; no one I knew had been through the quarantine process before. I had assumed, given Carleton’s outward attitude about the pandemic, that they had solid procedures in place for handling outbreaks and were prepared to support students.

I was wrong. And I want to preface what I’m about to say: I really sympathize for how difficult this pandemic has been for Carleton, and I do not blame any of the individuals on the COVID response team. They were understaffed and overwhelmed and doing the best they could.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way—my quarantine experience was absolutely awful. From the second my roommate dropped me off on the front deck of Rice House with a hastily packed duffle bag containing a random assortment of clothes and school supplies (but no shirts) and a water bottle half filled with Capri Sun, I knew that I was in for a long and brutal two weeks. 

My room was on the third floor and was suffocatingly small. There was no room to move about or pace, with the bed, dresser, desk and mini fridge taking up all available floor space. I’m not someone who usually has space issues—but my two weeks in this closet-sized room taught me everything I need to know about claustrophobia. For reference: the adjacent bathroom was bigger than my room. The first few days were warm and sunny, and so I tried to spend as much time outside as possible, either on my Daily Carleton Sanctioned Walk (capped at one hour) or sitting on the front porch and watching people walk by.

However, the weather soon changed into cold, rainy/ snowy, and grey. During this time of being trapped inside, with no sunlight or human interaction, I kept myself occupied by:

  • Downloading old Wii games onto my Macbook 
  • Starting (and giving up on) learning Swahilli on Duolingo
  • Writing a poem about how I felt like the woman from The Yellow Wallpaper
  • Eating entire Domino’s pizzas by myself
  • Sleeping 17 hours a day (if only to escape the burden of consciousness)
  • Worrying about getting/ potentially having COVID
  • Re-reading my favorite middle school book series
  • Texting people I haven’t talked to since high school 
  • Gazing out the window into Stevie P.’s backyard in the hope of seeing a human face

As I settled into the anxiety, depression, and apathy that comes with solitary confinement, I received daily emails and phone calls from the Carleton COVID team, inquiring about my wellbeing and checking that I was not seeing other people in the house or spending unnecessary time outside of my room. These communications, however, grew increasingly sparse and businesslike as my time in quarantine wore on, especially once the number of cases rose drastically and the college was quickly overwhelmed with juggling the increasing number of quarantined students. 

It quickly became clear to me and the other residents of Rice House that Carleton was not prepared to handle more than a few people in quarantine and isolation—and they should’ve been. The beginning of spring term was the largest outbreak we’ve had on campus so far, and despite the time and forewarning to prepare for a larger campus outbreak, Carleton was just not ready when it actually happened. 

I don’t know what went on or goes on inside the part of Carleton’s administration responsible for handling the pandemic—but to someone in quarantine, every communication felt frantic, rushed, and grossly overwhelmed. Those of us already in quarantine were quickly cast aside and left to cope on our own as the administration scrambled to address the spike in cases.

It didn’t take long for me to feel the lack of support. I was in a house with five other exposed students, two of whom tested positive in the first week we were quarantined. After finding out that two of the people we had been sharing spaces with were positive, the rest of us were not allowed to get tested unless we had symptoms, even for our own peace of mind.

This added to the emotional burden I was already experiencing in quarantine, because I now not only had to worry about the exposure that had placed me in quarantine to begin with, but also about potentially being exposed while living in the same house as two COVID-positive people. As someone with a high risk pre-existing condition, I was especially anxious about the possibility of getting sick. We were given very little support during this time, and any concerns we raised were harshly dismissed: “You’ve already been exposed, so what really do you have to worry about?”

In addition to this, two of the other people in my quarantine house, along with myself, had already been two weeks out of our first doses of the Pfizer vaccine when we were placed into quarantine, with our second doses scheduled within the coming days. When we explained our situation to the Carleton COVID-response team in contact with us, and asked whether we could leave for less than an hour to receive our second doses of the vaccine, the answer was an unequivocal no, even if/ when we tested negative. They informed us threateningly that if we left our quarantine space for any reason, including to keep our vaccine appointments, it was a breach of the Community Covenant and that we would be sent home and potentially face even more extreme disciplinary action. After all, they said, “You should feel good about your level of protection! The first dose is very effective against infection.” This felt like an especially low blow after a full week of Carleton-imposed quarantine. 

And then there was the issue of the food. They dropped off food once a day, at around 4:30-5:00 p.m., with dinner for the night and breakfast and lunch for the subsequent days. We were frequently given leftovers from the dining hall, which on its own isn’t a problem; I’m all for saving food waste. The issue came with the way this food was then stored; the food clearly had been left out in the open for a significant amount of time by when it reached us, since the hot food was no longer hot and the cold food was no longer cold. And because there was not much space in the refrigerator, I often ended up eating food that had been sitting out for 24+ hours. This, you might think to yourself, sounds like the perfect recipe for food poisoning. 

It was around the start of my second week in quarantine, I was hit swiftly and brutally by a bout of old-dining-hall-food induced food poisoning. I won’t get into the juicy details, but suffice to say that it was miserable and not something I would wish upon anyone. My mood was terrible, I was lonely and exhausted, and then I had to deal with unspeakable stomach issues with no support (except for from my friends—shout out to the people who doordashed tums for me and brought me pepto bismol. You know who you are and you saved my life). 

And throughout all of this, I had to keep up with a Carleton workload. I had to get onto all of my zoom meetings (or in the case of my in person class, have my face projected on the board for all to see), turn in assignments on time, and stay engaged. This was exceedingly difficult as my mental and physical health collapsed and I was barely able to complete even my most basic assignments. You’d think that with all the freetime on my hands, I should’ve had no problem completing my work, and maybe even could’ve gotten ahead– but the misery of quarantine made keeping up with a Carleton workload near impossible. 

To compound this socially, at least in my experience, there is a substantial amount of embarrassment, shame, and judgment surrounding being sent to quarantine or isolation. Especially with Carleton’s general culture, people often assume if you were exposed that you were being unsafe, breaking rules, or partying—basically, if you got COVID, you probably weren’t being careful enough, and brought it upon yourself. 

This is simply not true for many people. As I discovered, anyone can find themselves in quarantine or isolation. If you know someone in a similar situation in regards to COVID, be kind to them. Don’t make assumptions about how they ended up in quarantine or isolation; rumors spread fast at Carleton, and the people in quarantine are going through enough without having to constantly address accusations of being irresponsible partiers. I’m sure in some cases, this is true– but for the majority of people, they just got unlucky. 

And no matter what you do—don’t eat 2-day-old eggs from LDC.

2 Comments

  1. Anonymous Anonymous April 25, 2021

    THIS!! THIS ARTICLE!! Is so ACCURATE! This was my experience; I literally could not have said it any better. Thank you so much for writing this!! The only thing I would add is that the stigma still persists even once you have left the quarantine space. Again, this is great!

    • Sophie Perfetto Sophie Perfetto April 25, 2021

      <3 so glad that you enjoyed it and were able to relate!

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