Throughout the fall 2020 semester, North Complex has housed on-campus residents who must quarantine or isolate when they test positive or are deemed a close contact if they can’t go home. These students are called by a health official, given a certain amount of time to pack up essential items and are asked to go into quarantine. While in quarantine or isolation on campus, students said they feel completely cut off from the world.
At North Complex, food is restocked every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, students are then responsible for making sure food lasts until the next time it gets restocked. The building is not equipped with central air conditioning, which presented challenges in August and September with warmer temperatures. However, it does have heat.
Students are also asked to stay in their rooms at all times when isolated in North Complex, unless they’re using the bathrooms or getting food. The common areas are cleaned every weekday. During this time, students are not allowed to grab food or go to the bathrooms. Rooms are deep cleaned after a student has moved out.
Jacob Wood, resident director of North and South Complex, is one of several in charge of quarantine and isolation. Wood said he believes the quarantine and isolation system the University has in place is a good system, though he said he realizes that there are improvements that can always be made.
At least two students had concerns with quarantine and isolation. AnnaBeth Thomeczek, a student who quarantined in North Complex from Sept. 2-10, was one.
Thomeczek said she had to quarantine on campus because her dad has cancer and she didn’t want to risk exposing him to the virus.
“It was horrible,” Thomeczek said.. “It was boring, the food was bad, and I couldn’t do anything. I just kind of felt alone and like no one really cared about me.”
Wood said, for students like Thomeczek in quarantine, it is their responsibility to contact the Wellness Center if they start showing COVID-19 symptoms.
Thomeczek said she was contacted one time by somebody from the Wellness Center and was asked if she had any symptoms. After Thomeczek replied no, the person hung up.
“I was contacted one time, and the call lasted like a minute,” Thomeczek said.
Rose Viau, assistant vice president of student affairs for residential and auxiliary services, said this is because the Center for Disease Control and Prevention said students in quarantine do not have to be contacted constantly.
Viau said students in quarantine have numbers for the Wellness Center that they can call in case they do start showing symptoms and that this is what is expected of them.
Another complaint Thomeczek had was that some students took too much food for themselves, which led to a lack of nourishment during Labor Day weekend.
“It was Sunday and we had absolutely nothing to drink,” Thomeczek said. “No water bottles, no sodas, no milk was available all day.”
She said it wasn’t until 1 p.m. Sunday that she had emailed Wood about the problem, then later when she went back, everything was stocked. Thomeczek also said refrigerated food was kept stocked up, but snacks and silverware never lasted.
Viau confirmed the University has been having problems with running out of drinks for the students in quarantine and are trying their best to restock the drinks as fast as they can as soon as a student notifies them.
If food or drinks are ever empty, students are asked to call the COVID-19 hotline that is given to them when they enter quarantine or isolation. The COVID-19 hotline is specifically for students in quarantine and isolation and is meant for any questions or concerns they have while in North Complex.
As far as cleaning goes, Thomeczek said she never heard anybody cleaning but saw a sign that said cleaning only happened once a week.
Viau said the sign was in reference to the bathrooms, which do only get cleaned once a week. Students are expected to use the bottles of Bearcat Thunder provided to regularly clean a surface after they have touched it, such as the fridge or the sinks.
“At one point, somebody had moved out and were given one trash bag for trash,” Thomeczek said. “What had ended up happening was this person didn’t tie up their trash bag and it caused the hall to smell really bad until that one day when people came by to clean.”
Viau said rooms do get cleaned after students leave, but to ensure faculty safety, they wait between 24 and 48 hours before cleaning an empty room.
“That is based off of research and how much that ... COVID could remain on a surface,” Viau said. “So they do actually wait a few days before they clean that room.”
Viau said as far as cleaning the rooms goes, they are following the CDC’s research which states COVID-19 can survive on surfaces anywhere from three hours up to 24 hours, but cannot survive more than a week.
For these reasons and more, Thomeczek said she was miserable while in quarantine.
“The first day I was there, I didn’t feel like doing anything. I just cried and was really depressed,” Thomeczek said.
The first night, she didn’t unpack any of her things, but she said she eventually unpacked everything to try and make it feel more like her room in South Complex.
While Thomeczek described the bulk of her time in quarantine as awful, there were a couple of moments that she remembered that made her happy.
One of these moments is when the power went out across Maryville Sept. 4.
Thomeczek said everybody came out of their rooms at once, trying to figure out what happened.
“Even though we probably weren’t supposed to, we all just sat outside of our rooms with chairs and just talked to each other until the power came back on,” Thomeczek said.
She said they talked about their experiences when they got into quarantine, when they were going to get out, why they were there and how long they had to pack things up.
Another moment Thomeczek said she looked forward to every night were the short talks with her dad.
Thomeczek explained that her family lives out on a farm without a very good signal. Her dad would drive up to the nearest highway in order to get a signal to call her and tell her how many days she had left in quarantine.
Once Thomeczek was notified that she was allowed to leave, she said she woke up at 6 a.m., packed everything up and went right back to her dorm in South Complex. That day, she was ecstatic, and she grabbed lunch with her friend for the first time in close to 14 days.
Another student who temporarily lived in North Complex was Courtney Bangert, who was in isolation from Oct. 5-14. Bangert said her initial plan was to go home, but her parents didn’t want her to expose anyone else to COVID-19.
“I try not to remember the days,” Bangert said. “It was a really weird experience that I hope I never have to go through again. I always need to be doing something to keep myself busy or else my mind starts to wander. It’s just bad.”
While Thomeczek had an easy time getting checked into North Complex, Bangert said there was miscommunication somewhere because what she was told to do was different from what she was supposed to do.
And when Bangert started talking about the food options that were available, she slammed her drink on the desk in front of her.
She said she wasn’t expecting much, but she was pretty sure the food wasn’t changed at all.
“It wasn’t fresh at all,” Bangert said, “It was like week-old food. … The milk was also expired.”
However, Viau said she was not aware of expired food being provided to students in either quarantine or isolation.
“Our dining goes over there every other day when it’s busy or twice a day if there are a lot of students,” Viau said.
Unlike Thomeczek’s experience, Bangert said she was pretty positive people were going in and cleaning regularly because the toilet seats in the bathroom would be up after the allotted time when she was told not to leave her room.
Another difference between Bangert’s isolation and Thomeczek’s quarantine is that someone from the Wellness Center was in constant contact with Bangert.
Bangert described the whole of her time in isolation as boring and scary.
“I always felt like I was being watched by someone or something, and there was nothing there … like a horror movie,” Bangert said. “I felt like I wasn’t supposed to be there.”
Once Bangert was able to leave isolation, she said she was happy to be back in Dietrich Hall and to be able to sleep in her own bed. She said she hopes she never has to do it again.