As we enter into the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, cases on campus have reached a new peak. Due to Carleton’s high vaccination rate and a COVID-19 conscious student body, students on campus Fall Term saw a refreshing return to near pre-COVID-19 normalcy, with hopes that COVID-19 rates would remain low on campus in the winter. Unfortunately, over Carleton’s six-week winter break, a new COVID-19 variant emerged: Omicron.
As the new variant once again turned the world on its head with record-breaking infection rates, Carls returning to campus were required to complete the now-familiar two rounds of “baseline testing,” with a third additional round currently underway. In the first week of January, a staggering 109 new cases were detected within the community, with an additional 92 cases identified in the second week of January; this spike elevated Carleton’s 14-day positive rate to 6.88%—the highest it has ever been.
With campus submerged in the current wave of COVID-19, more students than ever are entering into isolation. The circumstances under which students are isolating are varied, fueling rumors and speculation among the student body. In the first days of Winter Term, students were especially feeling a lack of communication with the administration in regards to COVID-19.
Kailey Smith ‘23 experienced the communications issues from the administration firsthand when she tested positive after the first round of baseline testing. Per previous communications with the college, students were told to expect an email with their results if they tested negative and a phone call with results if they tested positive. So, when Smith received an email early in the morning that her COVID-19 test results were ready, she had assumed they were negative.
“It didn’t even really cross my mind that the results could have been positive, since they were emailed to me. I didn’t realize that I had tested positive until several hours later when I received a call from the Contact Tracing team.”
Smith was told to take one bag and walk to her isolation site at the Fairfield Inn. She explains, “A few minutes after getting to my room, my roommate walked in. This was super confusing because neither of us had been told that we would be sharing a room with someone else, and there was only one bed, so it felt like one of us had gone to the wrong place.”
Smith adds, “I ended up sleeping on the futon for the week, since I didn’t want to just take the bed. But it would’ve been nice to have been told that I would have a roommate ahead of time.”
Lane Maitland ‘23 was also isolated in the Fairfield Inn and echoes Smith’s statements: “I did have a roommate, which was unexpected. It wasn’t a problem, but neither of us had been told that we would have a roommate, so that might be something to inform people ahead of time in the future.” Unlike Smith, Maitland’s room had two beds, representing the diversity of isolation circumstances.
Maddie Gartland ‘22 spent her isolation in her room with her three suitemates, two of whom also tested positive and one who had recently had Omicron. Gartland explains, “The worst thing about it was the food. I’m really grateful that I had a roommate who could leave and get other food for me because, in some cases, the food they provided didn’t seem edible.”
Smith shares this sentiment, explaining, “We were supposed to get one hot meal and two cold meals a day, but it was pretty clear that all the food we got was old and had been sitting out for a while.”
Emotionally, the quarantine experience can vary immensely depending on the person and location, as many people have learned in the past two years of managing the ebb and flow of COVID-19. Smith shares, “It wasn’t too bad for me. I feel like I’ve done enough quarantining by now that I know what to expect, so I made it through all right.”
For Maitland, “It was pretty difficult, but it helped a lot to have another human in the room with me, even though we didn’t know each other beforehand.” She adds, “I think the hardest part was managing school work and staying motivated.”
Gartland seconds this thought, sharing, “I kind of went into vacation mode. It was hard to stay focused and keep my mind on school.” She continues, “I’m a bit of a homebody, though, so the actual isolation experience and staying in my room wasn’t too difficult for me.”
One thing that Smith, Maitland and Gartland all share in common is their appreciation for the QI Coordinator and members of the COVID-19 team. Maitland explains, “The people on the QI team must have been so overwhelmed, so I really have a lot of sympathy for them. And the QI Coordinator worked hard to check in on us and get us anything we might need.”
Smith similarly shares, “I really appreciated Kari [Scheurer, Isolation Coordinator] checking in on me and the team offering support.”
Gartland agrees, stating, “The QI Coordinator is working a pretty thankless job right now but is still such a positive force for the people in isolation.”