First-year Erica Bass woke up to a call on the morning of Aug. 20 about her COVID-19 test results. She’d tested positive.
“I did end up crying a little bit after I found out about it just because I didn’t really know where to go next,” Bass said. “I had absolutely no idea what to do because my main support system is states away.”
She’d gotten tested at the UNC Health Respiratory Diagnostic Center the day before and was living at the AC Hotel in Chapel Hill. Construction challenges had delayed her move-in to Granville Towers East.
Bass’s mother, who lives in Virginia, immediately contacted Carolina Housing to set up isolation housing on campus in Parker Residence Hall for her as soon as possible.
The Roadmap for Fall 2020 set aside Parker Residence Hall for isolation for students who tested positive for COVID-19, and Craige North Residence Hall to quarantine students who might have been exposed.
After packing up using a list from Carolina Housing, Bass took the P2P to Parker Residence Hall to begin her stay in isolation housing, which would last until Aug. 28.
She got a call from Campus Health on the morning on Aug. 22 for contact tracing — they asked who she’d been in contact with over the last six days.
Bass thought she’d be receiving a daily check-in phone call from Campus Health, as the person from Campus Health who’d answered her question via phone said she’d get a daily call. But she said she didn’t hear back from anyone except when she emailed specific questions to Campus Health or Housing.
Other students in quarantine and isolation housing on campus said they felt a similar lack of communication from the University while they waited for their test results or to get back to their daily lives.
'It was desolate'
Lexi Freas started her first year at UNC as normally as possible. She went to her in-person classes, participated in Air Force ROTC and limited her exposure to other people in Granville Towers, where she was living. Freas said she’d only been spending time with her suite and one other suite in Granville.
On Aug. 14, the end of the first week of classes, Freas received a text that one of them had tested positive for COVID-19.
Though she wasn’t listed as a close contact of the individual who tested positive, she went to Campus Health on Aug. 16 to get a COVID-19 test. They told her that she’d receive a call from Caroling Housing within an hour to start the move-in process into on-campus quarantine at Craige North Residence Hall.
Freas went back to her room after getting tested and waited about four hours before receiving a call from Carolina Housing about moving in.
“You imagine moving into a dorm as a very monumental, special thing, but when you’re moving into a quarantine dorm, you have no one helping you,” Freas said. “You only brought the stuff that you can carry. It’s very disheartening.”
She was given the code to a locker outside of Craige North, which had keys to her room and food for the first night in quarantine.
“I couldn’t hear anyone talking in the hallways,” Freas said. “There was no music. It was just desolate. I just unpacked everything and went to bed that night.”
Freas received daily emails with a survey for symptom monitoring for Campus Health, but like Bass, had expected to receive phone calls.
“It was a little hard because I was like, ‘Am I being forgotten about? Am I really valued?’ Yeah, they drop off food, but that’s it,” Freas said.
According to UNC Media Relations, “Any student who responds will receive a call from a Campus Health provider or nurse to assess their symptoms, condition and to provide medical advice as needed.” They said Campus Health does not call students in quarantine or isolation daily.
Media Relations said common areas of quarantine and isolation buildings are professionally cleaned and sanitized at least twice a week, and individual rooms are professionally cleaned and sanitized in between occupancy.
During her quarantine, Freas said two cleaners came into her room while she was in the shower. She hadn’t been notified via email or phone beforehand.
“Being a first-year female alone in a quarantine dorm, that was terrifying to me,” she said.
Freas sat in the hallway of Craige North while her room was sprayed.
“They sprayed my toothbrush and my bedding and my laptop,” Freas said. “Everything when I came back was wet and I didn’t have paper towels or rags or anything to wipe everything up with.”
She said she tried making a complaint to Carolina Housing, but was not able to get a hold of anyone. At the time of publication, she’d stopped trying to call.
Other than this incident, Freas’ stay in Craige North was quiet. One night, she was doing laundry and heard crying coming from another room.
“It took everything in me to not knock on their door and be like, ‘Do you just want to talk?’ because I couldn’t be around them,” she said.
Freas’ test came back negative, but she said the rest of her suite and the suite they socialized with tested positive.
Changing on-campus quarantine and isolation plans
Originally the University planned for one isolation and one quarantine space on campus. In mid-August, the total capacity for these was 85 isolation rooms and 63 quarantine rooms.
On Aug. 17, UNC’s COVID-19 dashboard was updated to include new data between Aug. 10 and Aug. 16. Only four of 73 quarantine rooms were available on campus.
The week of Aug. 17, the University secured hotel rooms to use as additional quarantine space, according to Media Relations. As of last Friday, the last time UNC’s COVID-19 dashboard was updated, the total capacity for on-campus quarantine and isolation was 170 rooms each.
According to social media posts from students in quarantine, they were previously instructed to not leave their rooms if the fire alarm sounded. In an email update sent on Aug. 18, Carolina Housing said: “Due to changes in the guidance from the Fire Marshall, if you hear a fire alarm please vacate the building as you would under normal operations. We ask that you maintain distance and wear a mask.”
In a statement to The Daily Tar Heel, Media Relations said students moving into quarantine and isolation housing would be contacted by the COVID-19 Student Care Hub with a list to find mental health and medical resources.
'Fallen through the cracks'
Junior Chloe Kent moved into Craige North to quarantine on Sunday, Aug.16.
“I’ve just been spending a lot of time in my bed, really close to the window and pretending I’m outside,” Kent said. “That’s helped.”
Kent got her negative test result from Campus Health four days after her test and moved out.
First-year Lilly Thurmond got tested at FastMed in Chapel Hill on Aug. 16. Twenty-four hours later, she got her results back: positive.
Though she lived in Granville, Thurmond wasn’t able to go home to isolate due to her parents’ jobs. She called Campus Health on Aug. 17 and was told to call back the next day. When she called the next morning, Campus Health took down her information and told her to wait for another call.
Aug. 18 went by. The phone never rang.
Thurmond called again on Aug. 19, and Campus Health gave her three other numbers to call. When she called those numbers, they redirected her to Campus Health.
“I was at the point where I hadn’t had an actual meal, I was living off dorm food, so what you can make in a microwave,” Thurmond said, as she was staying in her room to avoid exposing other Granville residents.
Thurmond said the person on the phone had gotten several emails about her that had “fallen through the cracks.”
“And I was like ‘Oh, my case has 'fallen through the cracks,'” Thurmond said. “Thanks, that’s helpful.’”
Thurmond moved into Parker Residence Hall, where she felt the University was "literally doing the bare minimum in everything."
While in isolation, she realized that she needed to move out of her room in Granville as the University de-densified its housing.
“Me sitting in the isolation dorm was like while the world was still going, I couldn’t keep up or do anything about it,” Thurmond said.
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