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‘It just seemed like they didn’t expect anybody to get COVID’: Inside Loyola’s COVID-19 Quarantine Dorm

Josh Knutsen | The PhoenixEver wondered what life is like for students living in St. Louis Hall after receiving a positive COVID-19 test? One COVID-19 positive reporter gives readers an inside look into COVID-19 dorms.

Testing positive for COVID-19 has now been added to the list of stressful college experiences this semester. To some, it may mean nothing more than an empty seat in class. But to those who get this news personally, it can mean a sudden shift back to isolation, anxiety and the unknown.

“It was really scary in that moment and I just didn’t expect that news,” said Carmen Fiarito, a first-year who received her positive test on Sept. 8.

Despite the pandemic, in-person classes returned at the start of fall semester. Students are living in dorms and returning to a degree of normalcy, with the university implementing precautions such as contact tracing and vaccine checkpoints in certain buildings to help mitigate the spread of the virus.  

Another part of these safety measures includes the isolation of some students who test positive for COVID-19. Individuals must report their own results within two weeks regardless of how or where they were tested, instigating a university-driven investigation to determine the next steps.  If a positive test is found by the Wellness Center, students living on campus are automatically moved into isolation.

The response to a positive test by a COVID-19 Care Coordinator is prompt. In about half an hour, the student receives and communicates their results, packs a bag to move and walks to St. Louis Hall (6244 N Winthrop Ave) — their home for at least the next ten days. If symptoms last longer than 10 days, then the official policy is to be released 24 hours after the end of the student’s fever as long as other symptoms are improving.

“It was just chaos,” Fiarito, 18, said. “A very chaotic, hectic 20 minutes of my life that I will never forget.”

Josh Knutsen | The Phoenix St. Louis Hall is filled with empty hallways, as students remain in their rooms.

After being dropped off with a key and a trash bag full of school-provided linens, the quarantine students are left to explore their individual dorm rooms.  The dorms can each accommodate one to two students, but while cases stay low, students are assigned to individual rooms with their own bathroom, according to Loyola spokesperson Anna Shymanski Zach.

The rooms come with at least a desk, a bed, a dresser, a sink, and a full-sized refrigerator, Shymanski Zach said.

Although the essentials are taken care of, the first moments in quarantine are no walk in the park. Anyone arriving after 1:15 p.m. will miss the daily food delivery, and some symptomatic students said they braved the first night with just sheets and a blanket. 

“I was feeling horribly sick and laying in that bed with no mattress pad, no real sheets and just couldn’t sleep the whole night,” Fiarito said.

First-year biology major Janine Dutrey, the first quarantine tenant in the hall this semester, said she had a rough start without food or power the first day.

“I felt like I had no one to turn to,” Dutrey, who stayed in isolation from Sept. 2 to Sept. 12, said. “I felt like no one knew what they were doing.”

Loyola quickly rectified some of these mistakes the next day, turning on the power and assembling a meal plan according to Dutrey. Despite this, Loyola spokesperson Anna Rozenich said the university’s had a plan in place since last year. 

“Loyola has had a long-standing plan in place since last year for protecting students in the event that they test positive and are in isolation,” Rozenich said. 

As more students arrived, Dutrey said the food system took form. Working in cooperation with Aramark, paper bags filled with both lunch and dinner are available for pickup in the building’s kitchen once daily and breakfast is provided via snacks in the pantry, according to Shymanski Zach.  The beverage options include milk boxes, tap water and the occasional orange juice, according to multiple students in quarantine.

Josh Knutsen | The Phoenix Meals for COVID-19 positive students are dropped off in paper bags at their rooms.

Outside of food and shelter, virtual academics are another hurdle students have to overcome. Upon entering quarantine, the responsibility sits largely on their shoulders to contact professors and arrange plans to continue learning while they are out of the classroom.

“My professors didn’t know that I had COVID until I told them,” Hailey Deane, an 18-year-old first-year, said.

Shymanski Zach clarified the policy, saying that all information and class materials not on Sakai must be obtained via professors or classmates.  The university itself takes care of contact tracing according to its COVID-19 FAQ page.

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