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Covid at 21: A Holy Cross Rugby Player Tells His Story

Brian Barry, a senior at Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., woke up in the middle of the night on March 10 with a telltale fever and muscle aches. What is it like to face down Covid as a hardy 21-year-old? In a text interview from school, Barry told The Insider his pandemic saga:


Brian Barry Today

PART I: 2020 B.C. (Before Covid)


The Insider:

Thanks so much for agreeing to talk with The Insider! A few background questions before we begin. Where are you from originally?


Brian Barry:

I grew up in Harrison, NY.


The Insider:

What’s your major?


Brian Barry:

Mathematics with a minor in Italian.


The Insider:

Were you living on campus at the beginning of the pandemic?


Brian Barry:

Yes. Last year I was on campus then we were sent home on March 14th I believe. All classes were online. For my senior year I now live in an off-campus house. Last semester was fully remote but this semester students are back on campus and some classes are in person or an online/in person hybrid.


The Insider:

Do you have a hybrid schedule?


Brian Barry:

No, all of my classes are online.


The Insider:

What was the beginning of the pandemic like for you?


Brian Barry:

It was pretty tough having to get sent home and lose the rest of my junior year on campus but it was necessary for the college to do. I went home and my brother and sister who both live in Brooklyn also came back since it was better for them to be in Harrison than in the city. I spent a lot of time playing video games with my friends since it was the best way for us to “hang out” with each other.

The Insider:

Did you have plans then for a summer job? What happened with that?


Brian Barry:

I had applied to a few internships in finance before the pandemic but I did not get any. My friend got me a job at a moving company that ran out of Newton, Mass. so I spent the summer at my off-campus house here in Worcester.


The Insider:

Your junior classes must have gone remote, right? What was that like?


Brian Barry:

Yes. We got sent home, then they gave us a week off so they could figure it out. It was definitely very strange not being in the classroom. Some classes were easier to transition, such as my philosophy class, religion class, and Italian literature class on Dante’s inferno. These classes could still be taught in a lecture format with discussions. It was not nearly as good as in person but the professors made it work.


My math class was a bit more difficult. This course was a project course so the entire second half of the semester was spent working on a project doing Topological Data Analysis (TDA). We had to use coding software that would be readily available on the school’s computers but we had to download it onto our own laptops. It was hard to work at home since I had a lot of questions (I am not great at coding) and it’s difficult to ask questions via Zoom rather than being in office hours right across from the professor.

Barry at an outdoor party at Holy Cross in 2018

The Insider:

Were you working in Worcester when you had to leave? Did you still have to pay your rent in Worcester when you went home?


Brian Barry:

When I left I was still on campus so I did not yet have my lease on my house, that started in June. I did have a job at the athletic center on campus though, so I lost that. I believe the school gave us back some money from our room and board fees since we were not on campus, but from what my parents were saying, it was not much.


The Insider:

Your school is a very pricey one! Did tuition stay just as high, even though the classes were remote?



Brian Barry:

I believe they either stayed the same or they knocked off a very very small amount. I can check that quickly. Either way we were not happy since how could they still charge so much when they aren’t even turning the lights on in the buildings.


The Insider:

Yes, there were protests at some schools because of that.


Brian Barry:

There was no change in tuition.


The Insider:

So have you been back Worcester since the beginning of the summer?


Brian Barry:

Yes I moved on June 1st.


The Insider:

Fast forward to the beginning of fall semester. Did anything change then?


Brian Barry:

We were told the college was working on trying to get students on campus and some form of in person classes but all of the sudden we got an email saying that this would not be happening. Everyone, even professors, were out of the loop until the very last second. Some students were allowed to come back such as international students and varsity athletes. The school heavily prioritizes the varsity sports.


Off-campus students were allowed to use the library and go to some areas campus if they got tested twice a week and performed a daily symptom checker. This was helpful since I could still use the library and it was good to have access to unlimited testing.


The Insider:

So you lived off-campus all fall, but attended remote classes? Did your friends and roommates do the same thing?


Brian Barry:

Yes we were all remote. All of my friends in my house were here last semester. Most if not all seniors who have off-campus houses were here.

Barry in front of the campus entrance in 2019

The Insider:

How many people do you live with?


Brian Barry:

I live with 9 of my friends in a house split up into 3 separate units. So my unit has 4 people, and the other two each have 3. Which is nice since we are at least all together and we are all getting tested constantly.



PART II: March 2021 (Positive)


The Holy Cross Campus in Worcester, Mass.

The Insider:

When did you find out that you had Covid?


Brian Barry:

I tested positive on Tuesday March 9th.


The Insider:

Were you having symptoms?


Brian Barry:

Not yet. But I woke up very early that Wednesday morning with a fever and muscle aches. It was about 4 in the morning and I checked my email and saw my positive test results.


The Insider:

How did you feel when you found out? Were you scared?


Brian Barry:

I was worried for my housemates but I was not particularly scared for myself. It was definitely uncomfortable having these symptoms but even at its worst point, it was not something that was unbearable.


The Insider:

Did you lose your sense of smell and taste like some people do?


Brian Barry:

Yes, I did. I lost those senses about three days in. The fever lasted only two or three days. The fatigue, and muscle aches lasted about four or five. I would say losing those senses was the worst symptom. Being isolated in my room my biggest comfort was food so not being able to taste was very disappointing and made everything more boring haha


The Insider:

I can imagine!


What did you do when you found out? Who did you tell first? Your family? The school? Your roommates? What was everyone’s reaction?


Brian Barry:

My school was immediately notified by the testing center but I also filled out my symptom checker that morning with my symptoms and I also indicated that I had tested positive. I first told my housemates and said that I was going to be isolated in my room. We were all contacted by the school with our specific instructions. No one was to leave for ten days. My friends had to get tested three times throughout the ten days. My mother was very worried of course.


We were all disappointed, of course. Our other friends that found out though were very helpful. One friend went out and bought me food, tissues, and Tylenol. One of my housemates was at home in New York getting vaccinated so he stayed there. His mother sent me up a big care package of food as well.


The way my school does it is that once I tested positive, I was told to isolate myself for ten days. Every day they call and monitor my symptoms. If by the end of 10 days, I am symptom-free, I am released. Then I do not have to get tested for 90 days. The reason for this is since it is very unlikely that I would be able to contract Covid again within this period. And even though I no longer have the virus, I could still potentially test positive since there could be harmless remnants in my system.


The Insider:

What was your highest fever?


Brian Barry:

101.4. That lasted two days then Day 3 was about 100 degrees then it went away.


The Insider:

Did you see a doctor anytime during your illness?


Brian Barry:

No I was told to stay in my room unless it felt like it was an emergency and I needed medical attention.


The Insider:

Did you attend remote classes while you were sick?


Brian Barry:

I did not attend classes 3/10 - 3/12 but I went back to class the following week.


The Insider:

How do you feel now? Any residual effects?


Brian Barry:

I feel 100% back to normal now.


The Insider:

Great news! Couldn’t you still be contagious, though?


Brian Barry:

Apparently not. My school is following all the Massachusetts testing guidelines, so the research must indicate that after I have kicked the virus, the chances of contracting and being contagious are extremely low. I am of course still instructed to wear a mask and social distance.



PART III: A.C. (After Covid)



The Insider:

When is the last time the rugby team played?


Brian Barry:

The last game was played in the end of November 2019.


The Insider:

Wow! That was a long time ago. Are you still a member of the team?


Brian Barry:

Yes, but since I am graduating and we can’t play, I guess I was forced into early retirement.


The Insider:

Good team?


Brian Barry:

Our rugby team is club but is highly competitive and very successful. I am involved with the club. I was co-president last year. We aren’t varsity so we are funded by campus recreation and donors from alumni rather than from the school’s money that goes to the teams such as football, basketball, etc. We do play against some schools with varsity rugby teams.


The Insider:

What is your position?


Brian Barry:

I play scrum half for the B-side of the team. Our A-side is our competitive side. I play on the B-side which is for newer players to learn and get experience.


The Insider:

What is your rugby team number?”


Brian Barry:

I wear number 9, which is the position of the scrum half. The numbers in rugby are tied to the positions.


The Insider:

Has there been a Covid problem on the Holy Cross campus?


Brian Barry:

I cannot remember if there were any significant outbreaks on campus last semester, but there have been some instances of several students getting Covid in a certain residence hall or on a sports team. The school is pretty good with it though. Since everyone is getting tested twice a week, it’s easy to catch a Covid case early. If someone tests positive, they are sent to a hotel the school has rented out as a quarantine and isolation center. The student and everyone who was in close contact with them are sent there for 10 days. Those who were in close contact are tested three times and monitor their symptoms over that 10-day period to make sure they do not have Covid.


The Insider:

What are the rules at the new Campus Recreation Center where you are working to make it safe?


Brian Barry:

Everyone has to be cleared which means they have completed their symptom checker for that day and they have been getting negative tests twice a week. Then we have capacity limits and workout equipment is 14 feet apart. Students have to book appointments too which keeps the capacity strict.


The Insider:

Do you know other people who have had Covid, either at Holy Cross or outside of school?


Brian Barry:

Yes I know a few people. A friend at another school and also a few kids who go here have had it in the past.


The Insider:

Are they all in their 20’s?


Brian Barry:

Yes.


The Insider:

Were they very sick?


Brian Barry:

One of my friends got it last year in March just as everything was getting shut down. He said his symptoms were nothing more than a slight cold.


The Insider:

What about the others?


Brian Barry:

Another friend had a fever for about a day or two and only lost his taste. That was his only other symptom.


The other two were similar to me. A few days of fever and some aches and pains. One of whom did not lose taste or smell


The Insider:

Do you know any older people who got it?


Brian Barry:

Fortunately, I do not personally know any older people who have had it. But I know one of my friend’s mother had it but I do not know about her symptoms. And my boss here actually had it over the summer she said


The Insider:

It sounds as though it’s true that younger people usually have an easier time if they get it.


Brian Barry:

Yes, no one I know had it too bad


The Insider:

Does that mean that most people in their 20’s are not that worried about getting it, or do they worry a lot about infecting their parents and older relatives?


Brian Barry:

Everyone I know is worried because they know they can transmit it to others such as parents. But they aren’t worried about the symptoms themselves as much. They know that if they get it and isolate correctly it won’t be too bad as long as they don’t spread it.


The Insider:

Do you have any idea yet about when you’ll be eligible to get a vaccine?


Brian Barry:

I am not sure. I believe that this summer I may be able to since I will be a government employee

The Insider:

What date will you be graduating?


Brian Barry:

May 21st


The Insider:

Soon! And what job are you taking?


Brian Barry:

I will be working at the Department of Defense as a contract specialist at the F35 joint program office. I will be working on contracts on behalf of the DoD pertaining to the F35 fighter jet. I start in July.


The Insider:

Nice! Good for you!! Will you be moving to Washington, DC?

Brian Barry:

Thank you! I will be moving to Arlington Va.


The Insider:

Did you interview for the job in person, or remotely?


Brian Barry:

I had my interview on the phone.


The Insider:

Will you be able to go into your office in person?


Brian Barry:

I have a friend who works there now and he said that a small number of people can go into the office to work if they would like to, but no one really does. Everything is remote right now.


The Insider:

Looking back on your academic experience during the pandemic, how do you feel about it?


Brian Barry:

I think that no matter what professors do, online classes will never compare to in person ones. Being in the classroom and in front of the professor is how I have learned all my life. Also not having the ability to meet up with friends easily on campus dampens the college experience greatly. A huge part of college is being on campus with all of your friends which is a release from all the work. My favorite thing at school was playing rugby and hanging out with the team, but this is no longer possible. However, this is unfortunately how it must be. I hope that the issue at hand can be dealt with as quickly as possible so college life can go back to normal for students in the future.


The Insider:

Yes!


Brian Barry:

I also notice that students lose motivation when classes move online which is frustrating for professors.


The Insider:

Did grading stay the same? And did homework stay the same?


Brian Barry:

Last year when we got sent home some professors ditched some assignments and the college let us designate two classes as pass-fail. Holy Cross is the only school out of all my friends’ schools that allowed only two pass-fails. They had the option to have all four. But last semester and this semester professors went back to a regular amount of work, which is a bombardment.


The Insider:

So in a way, the schools were giving students the option of disregarding their grades during the pandemic, right? You’re talking about spring semester, right?

Brian Barry:

For two classes you had the ability to disregard the letter grade you just needed to pass to get credit. You can uncover those grades and count them towards your gpa if you want to at graduation. And yes that was for spring last year.

The Insider:

Help me understand the general attitude of colleges. Did they not care as much about students’ pandemic grades?


Brian Barry:

For grades I think it depends on the professors


They were lenient last year out of sympathy but this year it’s up to the professors and how they structure the class and if they think that we should be fully accustomed to online learning.


The Insider:

How would you sum up your feelings about having had Covid?


Brian Barry:

I think that having Covid was a very interesting experience. It is interesting to see how the symptoms differ among cases. I’m glad too that none of the people I live with got it so it did not spread. I will try and see if I can donate plasma.


The Insider:

Do you have any remaining symptoms now?


Brian Barry:

Nope. None. I am all clear.


The Insider:

We’re glad to hear it! You are a lucky man!

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