A tale of three quarantines: Students on and off campus share their experiences

By Tamar Mosby, Editor

The number of university students in quarantine is still unknown to campus and the public.

On Sept. 2, SIU reported 31 active cases of coronavirus among students, faculty and staff but these numbers do not include students who were told to quarantine.

According to information given to the Daily Egyptian from three anonymous university  RAs, students in quarantine are instructed to put chairs in front of their doors and are not allowed to tell other residents what the chairs mean.

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(See more: SIU will not be informing the public of COVID-19 outbreaks on campus; RAs told to keep quiet)

 Luke Schauster, a  first-year theater student at SIU said he found out his suitemate, with whom he shares a small bathroom, had come into contact with COVID-19 because he would hear a knock at the suitemate’s door each day and eventually decided to investigate.

Schauster said when he went to check out the knocks, he discovered that food was being delivered to his suitemate because he was in quarantine. He said that he had not heard from the university or his suitemate about the situation prior to reaching out via text message.

According to Schauster, a chair was not placed outside of his suitemate’s door in Neely Hall, nor was he notified of the designated quarantine taking place on the other side of his suite.

“I looked out and I saw a meal placed in front of my suitemate’s door and I had never seen a chair in front of his door, which is what the university says is signifying when someone’s quarantined. I texted him and asked if he had been quarantined and he said he had. That was after a week and a half of him being quarantined,” Schauster said.

Despite sharing a bathroom with his suitemate, who was exposed to someone that tested positive for COVID-19, Schauster said he himself was not placed in quarantine or given any instructions on how to handle the situation.

For students living on-campus, the dining hall is where many go to enjoy meals and socialize. Schauster said he suspects his suitemate, who is employed at Trueblood Dining Hall, came into contact with the individual who tested positive there.

“My suitemate does work in the dining hall, so that’s where I’m assuming he came in contact with it because right before he was placed in quarantine, we got a message from our RA saying that it would be in our best interest if we stayed away from the dining hall for a couple of days,” Schauster said. “Then, I ended up hearing eventually that one of the dining hall workers had gotten it.”

The message from Schauster’s RA reads as follows, “Hey guys, it would be in everyone’s BEST INTEREST to wear a mask AT ALL TIMES ON OUR FLOOR and to stray away from the dining hall.”

After discovering his suitemate’s quarantine, Schauster said he has been looking into getting tested for COVID-19.

“He did not tell me if he had been tested or not, and I have looked into getting tested myself because of this situation. He said that he hasn’t shown any symptoms […] and that it’s just a mandated quarantine,” Schauster said.

Melissa Stanevich, a sophomore studying biological sciences, is another one of the SIU students currently in quarantine.

Unlike Schauster, Stanevich was placed in quarantine with her suitemate at Schneider Hall on Aug. 24 after coming into contact with an individual who tested positive for COVID-19.

“I was informed by the person later on that night when they got the test results and then, maybe an hour later, SIU Housing and the head of residence [life] called me and informed me of why I was being placed in quarantine and that starting that night, I’d be in quarantine,” Stanevich said.

Despite being informed by the university of her mandatory quarantine, Stanevich said she didn’t receive written instructions from staff until a week after her isolation began.

“I never got a piece of paper until yesterday [Sept. 1] stating the quarantine rules. Before, it was just, ‘Don’t leave your room unless it’s a medical emergency or fire. Try to keep distance from your suitemates. Just wait it out and call us if you’re developing symptoms or anything’,” Stanevich said.

Even with the differences in their experiences, Schauster and Stanevich’s stories do share one commonality, Trueblood Dining Hall. 

“All of us on the 11th floor, there’s about five of us, were all at that dining hall [Trueblood] and were exposed to that person. So me and my suitemate, because we’re really close friends, were both exposed [at the same time] and so we were both put in quarantine in the dorms,” Stanevich said.

According to Stanevich, the individual she had come in contact with who tested positive was not employed at Trueblood and was merely a patron.

As far as quarantine, Stanevich said she hasn’t faced many issues, but has had problems with the food being provided to her.

“We get three meals a day: two deliveries […] The portions vary: it could be a great portion size where you’re full until the next meal or a small portion size, or it could be something that just doesn’t look appetizing at all,” Stanevich said. “We don’t get to express what we would like [and] we don’t even get options. I’m not one to complain […] but sometimes the food is just inedible. It does not look right or smell right because I don’t know how long it’s been sitting out.”

When she cannot eat the food the university provides, Stanevich said she makes instant food like cup ramen or macaroni and cheese after having someone deliver groceries to her door.

Stanevich said that the Jackson County Health Department eventually allowed her to leave her room five days after she was placed in quarantine to undergo a coronavirus test, which came back negative.

To signify her quarantine, Stanevich placed a chair outside of her door, something that was not done by Schauster’s suitemate.

Stanevich said she feels that she is protecting others by staying quarantined in her room, and that quarantine is being handled correctly, but more concrete rules should be made by the university concerning this.

“They need to get a more strict set of rules written down so that we aren’t as confused and know what we can and can’t do,” Stanevich said.

Stanevich said that despite not having a strict set of concrete rules, she feels the university housing staff are doing their best to help her.

“All of the head housing staff who have ever contacted me, they really do feel for me and my situation and they’ve at least tried to do their best to make [the experience] bearable here for me. Travis Pierce has been great. He gave me a phone number if I ever had any questions about my quarantine. They all seem to be doing their best. I think they’re just as lost as all of us are,” Stanevich said.

While there have only been nine active on-campus student cases reported, there are 20 off-campus cases among students.

Hailey Blanchard, a junior studying sociology, has been placed in quarantine at her off-campus apartment after having come in contact with an individual who tested positive.

The individual was a teammate of Blanchard, who is a member of the SIU women’s soccer team. 

Blanchard said she was informed of this during a practice, after the entire team had undergone testing.

“We were informed at practice as soon as we were given the results,” Blanchard said. “They called our trainer and she alerted our coach and [we] stopped practice as soon as possible.”

After being informed, Blanchard, as well as half of the women’s soccer team, were placed in quarantine.

During her quarantine, which began on Aug. 25, Blanchard was called and given instructions by the Jackson County Health Department.

Blanchard said she has been spending her time in her apartment, not even coming into very close contact with her roommate.

“I am currently stuck in my apartment with my roommate but we’re not really allowed to even be in the same room right now,” Blanchard said. “My roommate has been getting everything I need for me,  and all my classes are completely online so it hasn’t changed anything school wise.”

Because she is an athlete, Blanchard said she has undergone several COVID-19 tests and has received one consistently every week.

Blanchard received negative results after being tested a week into her quarantine, but said she has struggled with overthinking while being secluded in her apartment.

“It’s been hard to not overthink because, although there’s always something to occupy yourself with, staying in the house for this long of a time definitely makes you get a bit in your head,” Blanchard said.

Each of these students are facing different challenges regarding quarantine, but it seems they were all in agreement that their experiences have changed the way they view attending university in the midst of a pandemic.

Blanchard said that her experience has completely changed her opinion about students being on campus. 

“I don’t think the majority of students are taking the necessary precautions for this campus to be safe. I almost feel like it’ll be unlikely if the whole student body stays here because people are still socializing too much,” Blanchard said. “I do feel safe with what I’m doing, but the issue is that if everyone doesn’t take the right precautions, they could get you sick and make you suffer for their lack of responsibility.”

Stanevich said she believes going to class on campus could still be a feasible option for SIU, but she plans to make changes as far as the dining halls are concerned.

“I think in class is fine because everyone is wearing their masks and walking around campus it seems like everyone is following the rules, but the dining hall is the biggest part for me that changed my mind because before I was a little iffy going there because they didn’t have takeout options, and they still don’t,” Stanevich said. “Probably once I get out of quarantine, I’m going to limit my time at Trueblood because that’s the more populated dining hall or I might even go over to Lentz [dining hall] because that seems to be less populated and more social distancing is actually taking place in those dining halls.” 

Schauster said that his experience has caused him to be frustrated and question the university.

“It was really frustrating to find out and also kind of scary because he’s been through his two weeks of quarantine and he says he’s fine, so I’m happy for him, but if this had gone worse, that’s also putting my life at risk,” Schauster said. “The fact that my suitemate and the university hadn’t contacted me about anything, it feels like we’re being kept in the dark and that’s not okay.” 

Jon Shaffer, the director of university housing declined to comment on this story unless the Daily Egyptian told him which sources mentioned that Trueblood might have had an outbreak. The Daily Egyptian refused to do this because it goes against journalism ethics.

Editor Tāmar Mosby can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @mosbytamar.

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