From Barely Affected to Newly Infected
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
Four College Students on Their COVID Experience
An Insider Exclusive
Zoom classes. Masks. Remote learning. Social distancing. The Pandemic of 2020 is shaping the lives of students on campuses across America. This week, with COVID surging to all-time highs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even recommended that college students not travel home for the Thanksgiving holiday. Those who decide to go anyway were warned to take extra precautions, including quarantining before returning home and getting tested.
The Insider speaks this week to four college students about what it is like to be enrolled in school in the midst of a health crisis. Their circumstances vary widely, as do the situations at their individual schools. Some of them have been affected by COVID personally, while others have been lucky enough to view it from a relative distance. But one thing Is certain: no one in Generation P will ever forget the unique experience of higher education in the middle of a pandemic.
Michigan State University/ East Lansing, Michigan
The Insider: What happened with COVID when you went back to school this semester?
Lina Berman: One of my friends got a fever and she got tested and we all quarantined in our rooms. Then once she came back positive, I three-days later, on September 14, we all got tested immediately. Within half-an-hour the whole sorority house was gone in different cars and we all got tested and waited in line for about three hours, because the line is crazy here.
The Insider: So you were living in a room with them?
Lina Berman: I have a single, I am by myself.
The Insider: So everybody in the house went and got tested?
Lina Berman: Yes.
The Insider: Approximately how many people are there?
Lina Berman: At that point, we probably had about 20, 21.
The Insider: Wow! What were the results?
Lina Berman: Well the girl who tested positive is my close friend so there were four of us total. It was me, my friend who had already tested positive, my other close friend, and another close friend, because we all spent the most time together. So I had a feeling, I was the last one to get my results, so I had a feeling at that point that I was positive.
The Insider: Were you having symptoms by then?
Lina Berman: We had mild symptoms, all of us.
The Insider: What were your symptoms?
Lina Berman: Throughout the whole thing, I had loss of smell, loss of taste, headaches, fatigue. I didn't have as thermometer for a while, but I don't think I had a fever, but I also didn't have a thermometer for like half of it, so my aunt sent me one in the mail.
But I think that because we were all college students and we were all tired and looking at our screens all day anyway, we were already really tired, so we just thought it was that. It was allergy season for the fall too, so some people in the house had sniffles, even if they didn't test . No one knew what was what. So I think at least for me I was kind of in denial a little bit. Like I didn't think I had it at first, but then once my friends had it I was like, "Oh I probably have it." But at some point throughout the week I lost some of those like taste and smell.
The Insider: And as soon as you found out, what was your reaction?
Lina Berman:When my first friend tested positive, I had cried. It was the closest person I had known to get COVID. When I tested positive, I was concerned and stressed because I had been careful. However, after finding out about my friend's’ test result, I was emotionally prepared for a positive result. It was stressful because I had to move out of my house immediately. People who got COVID in the house were moved to these apartments that my mom referred to as “COVID Row.” The company that owns our house also owns these apartments and kept them for people who needed them to isolate in during the pandemic this school year. They only had one apartment available and I took the last one.
The Insider: How long did you have it for?
Lina Berman: They say that once you test positive or experience symptoms, you should stay isolated for ten days. I did everything up to protocol. But I don't know when it stops, because you can have antibodies for a really long time, because I got antibody tested a couple of weekends later.
The Insider: Did you have antibodies?
Lina Berman: Yes. But they tell you not to get tested through your nasal cavity or your nose, because you could technically keep testing positive for up to three to six months. I'm going to plan on getting the antibody test again until it doesn't show it anymore. and then I can start getting tested again.
The Insider: So what did you do, did you isolate for ten days or quarantine for ten days?
Lina Berman: Yes, yes. I found out around 7:30 PM, it was a Wednesday, I believe. An hour later, I packed up. An hour later, I was at the apartments. Then I stayed at the apartments for a full ten days and then you get to leave the next morning after the full ten days. So I was probably there for really like eleven-ish days, including like the night and the morning of the next day.
The Insider: Were you doing schoolwork during this time?
Lina Berman: Yes, I didn't tell any professors that I had COVID.
The Insider: Because?
Lina Berman: I didn't have bad enough symptoms and I wasn't tired enough to not go to class and also I had as much time like on my hands as I would ever have.. I could do absolutely nothing, so might as well just do my schoolwork.
The Insider: That's really admirable! I don't know how you concentrated.
Lina Berman: I don't know. I guess a lot of people stay where they are and isolate, so they still have all of their stuff, but I just brought what I needed and then my aunt sent me some stuff, but it was only stuff I would use to cook or clean or stuff, so it wasn't anything entertaining. So I would basically watch a ton of Netflix or work on homework. But I was on top of my work the most that week.
The Insider: Yes it sounds like it. That's very impressive.. So how long until your friends got better? Did everybody get better pretty fast?
Lina Berman: Oh yeah. None of us really had…we didn't notice that we had it, except for my friend who got her fever, but her fever was over within 24 hours and the rest of us just had like mild symptoms. None of us were really sick, so we got better fast. It was just more of a boring week.
The Insider: Oh, that's interesting. So I guess it's true that younger people weather it more easily.
Lina Berman: I think that are some people who still get really bad symptoms who are young. But I had another friend in Wisconsin who got it too and she was about the same as me… I didn't get a cough, just got tired mostly,. I think it just tires you out more than you're expecting.
The Insider: You having any lingering symptoms? Do you still have fatigue from it?
Lina Berman: I don't think I still have fatigue from it. I think sometimes I think I can smell differently. I have a really good sense of smell: My mom always says I should test perfumes, because I can smell everything. But I think it's just altered a little bit. It's not quite as sharp.
The Insider: Please ell me the exact date that you got tested.
Lina Berman: September 14th.
The Insider: Wow, so that was soon after getting back to school.
Lina Berman: Yes. Then I got my results the 16th at night. We were also recruiting during this like online via Zoom, so there was a lot going on.
The Insider: Did you tell the people who were rushing the sorority that you had COVID? Did they know?
Lina Berman: I didn't, We were completely done by the time I had found out. So I didn't need to mention it. But I mean I would have. In our house we are very open about it if you're going to get tested, because it involves everyone and people prefer honesty over you know.
The Insider: Oh absolutely, you can't lie about this one.
Lina Berman: Yes.
The Insider: What kind of situation did you walk into when you came back to school? Was there as crisis, an outbreak on campus at that point? Were things bad when you got it around the campus?
Lina Berman: Yes. Around the time I got it numbers were rising. Around the time I tested positive, our house and a bunch of other sororities and fraternities or other houses had a great number of people, because we have a lot of houses here that can hold a bunch of people even if it's not Greek life.
Basically, houses with a certain number living there were put on a mandatory quarantine, so we would have to stay in our house. And basically all of campus and then the extension of where a bunch of people who live away from campus, that are just off of campus were placed on, I don't know if it was a full quarantine, but a watch. Like they were extra cautious of those areas and then my house was put on a quarantine by the Health Department.
The Insider: What is the situation on campus now, COVID-wise?
Lina Berman: I'm actually not quite sure. I haven't heard it being any worse, but I would say it's been consistently not great here. It's a college campus, so you can't stop everyone. But also at this point probably a bunch of people have had it, so less people can get it for awhile or that's what studies say or the CDC says.
The Insider: How has the administration has handled it at school? Have you been satisfied or dissatisfied?.
Lina Berman: I don't think I have an opinion. I think they're trying.
The Insider: What do other people think? What does the general student body think of how the administration is doing?
Lina Berman: People in my house, I would say, do care a lot about it and we've been I would say fairly good and people would say that a bunch of fraternities and sororities aren't being good, but we haven't really gone out that much. I would say, as a whole, the student body is just annoyed that they can't have tailgates and can't go out. I think people want their college experience and they're annoyed by it. But then the same thing people are going out anyway and getting sick, so…
The Insider: Does everybody wear a mask on campus?
Lina Berman: Everyone's supposed to have a mask on campus. I think everyone does. I even walk with my mask for the most part, unless I really need to take a breather, but even so it's usually when there's not a big crowd around. I also live more in the neighborhood than right on campus. But everyone has a mask or they're supposed to have a mask.
The Insider: What are the other sort of should's? What should people be doing?
Lina Berman: People should be socially distancing, People aren't supposed to be at large gatherings. Technically my house exceeds the limit, but that's just because we all live together, so iit's not against the rules, but we can't have like a separate gathering with other people. But I don't know what the new should's are because Michigan just changed it last night.
The Insider: Yes. So you must feel kind of buffeted around by all of this. Things keep changing and happening.
Lina Berman: Right. It wasn't that big of a change. I don't really go out to eat that much. I hadn't been in a restaurant -- the last time I was in a restaurant was right the week before everything shut down. Then I hadn't been in a restaurant again since, until after I had COVID. I really haven't gone that much since then, maybe only a couple of times. So it doesn’t change much because we just carry out anyway or grocery shop.
The Insider: Tell me what's not happening on campus? I'm sure there are no sports, right?
Lina Berman: We have football. We have sports still, but there's something really strict for them. I think they get tested a bunch. I think that they can only really see each other. There's no tailgating technically, but it was really funny on game day to see a bunch of people, but as cops showed up, you could see people dispersing.
The Insider: So there's a temptation to break the rules on campus.
Lina Berman: I guess so.
The Insider: For a lot of people, not you, It sounds like you're being very strict.
Lina Berman: Yes,. I don't think,anyone in our house went to a tailgate. We all watched the game with a mask inside though on the TV.
The Insider: Do you wear a mask around the house, is that how it works?
Lina Berman: Yes, in common areas.
The Insider: That makes sense. Is there anything else about your COVID experience that you think would enlighten me?
Lina Berman: It’s funny from my family. We're very closely connected at least to our extended family and I've never received so many text messages asking me about COVID or just to talk. In one weekend, I've got so many text messages from family members.
The Insider: And what are they saying, what types of things?
Lina Berman: It was just the same, "Oh my gosh you have COVID! Are you okay? How are you? What does it feel like? You're the first person in the family..' They asked me a bunch, will we ever get it? Asking me if I need anything.
My mom was funny. At that point, since my friends had tested positive on the previous two days, she knew I had it before I even knew.She said I sounded tired on the phone. So I told her and she was like watching a show I think and she was like, "Okay, that's unfortunate." It was like, "I'll call you later." (Laughs)
So I had to pack up. But I think just it wasn't that big of a reaction from the both of us because we were prepared for it. At that point it was my three closest friends that I probably spent the most time with so you know I just… It would make no sense if I didn't have it I guess.
The Insider: Well you're right with the times. You had the 2020 experience now.
Lina Berman: Yes.
The Insider: I'm glad you're over it. Did you feel very isolated when you were in your apartment, when you were in that room?
Lina Berman: I thought I would and some days I did, but for at least the girls who were there we would FaceTime for every meal, so that it wouldn't be like alone or feel as alone and if we got bored we would FaceTime. But I honestly think we just committed a lot to our studies that week. We probably should have taken that excuse and just been like, "We can't show up today." But it gets boring just watching TV all day , I couldn't do it the whole time.
The Insider: Right. It's so impressive that you did your schoolwork during this, It's really amazing that you got anything done while this was going on, That's great.
Lina Berman: Thank you, yes.
The Insider: What is the school doing about next term? Are classes remote? Will there be any in-person classes?
Lina Berman: This semester is all online. Next semester, they were supposed to add more hybrid, but it was supposed to be for people who are trying to graduate, so juniors and seniors. But we haven't heard any updates since last night or since the numbers have increased.
The Insider: Are you learning? Do you feel like you can learn under these circumstances?
Lina Berman: I don't think it's as beneficial for the long run, but it's what we have to do. I don't prefer it, because I don't. Last year, you would have a brain break in between classes when you walked to one building to the next or maybe you'd take a break and study somewhere else. But you got to move locations.
The Insider: Yes.
Lina Berman: But this is where I Zoom from, This is where my desk is, I stay here all day. But I am someone who needs to move around a lot.
The Insider: Do you get some exercise?
Lina Berman: Yeah, I have been like working out five days a week in my room or in the main area or my friends and I will take longer walks.
The Insider: So you have adjusted to it, you have too, you have too.
Lina Berman: Yes it's better this semester than it was, I think. spring semester.
The Insider: Because it was newer then and then stranger.
Lina Berman: And that's also why I came up to school, because I think at least I'm trying to be more in the school mindset, whereas at home, I'm home with my mom and my dad and my dog. So there are more distractions. Even though I'm with a bunch of girls, they're also in classes and they also want to focus at some point. So we're more at the mindset ,we have to do schoolwork. But also my mom's like, "Do you want to come home now?" I'm like, "No, I'm going to come home in a week," because I would rather try to focus as long as possible before I just enjoy a little bit of a break.
The Insider: I'm really impressed. I wouldn't have been able to do that. I wouldn't have been able to study. I would have used it as an excuse to just, "I can't do anything."
Lina Berman: Right, I know. I mean I haven't really heard of many people taking off this semester, but I know that some people probably have just because it is really difficult to learn this way.
The Insider: How are you handling Thanksgiving?
Lina Berman: If I hadn't gotten COVID ,I probably would have gotten tested a few days before and just stayed not isolated, but I guess under a self-type of quarantine.
But because I had it technically… I mean we've done a lot of research, all my friends and I and our families who have had it just to make sure we're okay, but technically we're not able to give or receive it while we have the antibodies. So my mom feels pretty safe with me coming home and I had just gotten antibody tested I think two to three weeks ago. I could get it again before I come back to school because that would be about the window of when they’re supposed to expire, but they can last longer.
The Insider: Is the school telling people not to go home by any chance? Aren't some schools doing that?
Lina Berman: Our school is saying that before you go home you should get tested and they have testing at the stadium and there's also it's called "Sparrow Hospital," but they have a testing site where there used to be I believe like a car shop or something. There's one there and there's one at the stadium. They're saying get tested before you go home so you don't accidentally spread it to your family.. They're not saying, don't go home, but they're saying ,be cautious before you go home.
The Insider: Do they tell you to get tested before you come back to campus?
Lina Berman: Yes, but they said that if you had gotten a positive test result within the last three months don't get tested.
The Insider: But they want everybody else to have a test before they come back to campus or they're not saying that?
Lina Berman: Yes, I mean they haven't reviewed that, but I'm almost positive that's what's it's going to be. Our sorority house is also going to ask for a test result when we come back.
Ana Claire Piacentini
Brown University/Providence, Rhode Island
English and International and Public Affairs
The Insider: Why don't you fill me in on what the COVID situation is on the campus?
Ana Claire Piacentini: Brown has been doing a really great job, especially with COVID. So, we get tested, We have to get tested every four days, and it's in one of our athletic facilities where we go. And we have the daily symptom tracker where we have to track whether or not we've been in contact with someone who contracted COVID., whether we have any symptoms that kind of disregard allergies, so it's based on kind of how you know yourself and your body..
Then, after we get tested, we'll get our results within at least 24 hours. The, results have been coming back really quickly, which is good. And then, each week, they update a Covid website where we can see the rates of asymptomatic students who test positive. And for the most part, the rate has been very, very low.
But starting last week, I believe we had 17 cases, which was an all-time high. And then, this past week, we have had 26 cases, so far, from asymptomatic students. So, I think right now, the health on the campus is slowly going down, but all semester, it's been really healthy, which has been great.
The Insider: Do you know anyone who's gotten sick?
Ana Claire Piacentini: I've heard of some people, but for the most part, no, I've been very fortunate to not have been in contact with people.
The Insider: It sounds like your school is being very careful.
Ana Claire Piacentini: Yes. President Paxson has, honestly, done a great job, and her Healthy Team at Brown, they've been excellent.
The Insider: Tell me what it's like to go to the mass testing situation.
Ana Claire Piacentini: It's honestly not that bad. We have to schedule a time and we go within the time frame, and everyone who works there is super nice. During quiet period, it was the highlight of my day, because it was really the only human interaction I had. So they're super friendly, and you go, and you don't have to do the super crazy one where you stick it all the way up to your brain. It's just the little one where you go kind of in both nostrils, three times around. And it's super organized, very clean, extremely spaced-out, and everyone there is super friendly, which is nice.
The Insider: And what other precautions are you asked to do by the school?
Ana Claire Piacentini: Wear a mask everywhere, not in your dorm room but in the hall, in the bathroom, and every time you go out, When you do homework, you really kind of should stay in your room. but you can go to certain lounges and do your work. But for the most part, I think students stay in their dorm rooms and do their homework and do classes. So it's been nice. And also, people have gone outside.
Some people wear a mask and others don't. It's kind of all to the discretion of the individual, which is to be expected, I guess, because we're adults now. But for the most part, here, everyone on campus is very considerate about COVID, and COVID-conscious.
The Insider: I guess there are no libraries open, right?
Ana Claire Piacentini: There are, but you schedule a time to go. I haven't been to one, just because I don't mind doing homework in my room. But I know some of my friends have, and they say it's fine, just certain floors are open, and certain aren't.
The Insider: And everything is very spaced, right?
Ana Claire Piacentini: Yes, and you get a two-hour time block, I believe.
The Insider: What about the eating situation in the dorms?
Ana Claire Piacentini: We have this mobile app called GetMobile, and we'll place our online order, and then, you'll go to the dining hall and pick it up. It's very spaced out, really, it's very efficient. You get a confirmation e-mail that your order has been received, and then you get a confirmation e-mail when your order is ready to be picked up. It's fantastic.
The Insider: That's really very efficient.
Ana Claire Piacentini: Yes. And then, we have two dining halls where you can go in and just grab-and-go, but I haven't been to them just because they're not my favorite. So, I do the GetMobile app pretty much every day, twice a day.
The Insider: And has this been going on all semester since you got back to school?
Ana Claire Piacentini: Yes. So, during quiet period, we couldn't use the mobile app; we could only go into one specific dining hall for two weeks. And, I mean, that was a little rough.
The Insider: What do you mean by quiet?
Ana Claire Piacentini: So, quiet period is where we came back to school and we had to isolate for two weeks.
It was definitely difficult, but what was nice is I live with, like, three of my friends, we got to choose who we live with So, we would hang out in one person's dorm room, like, stay in your pod, which was good. And we all tested negative multiple times before we saw each other.
The Insider: Tell me about what a pod is.
Ana Claire Piacentini: So, a pod is a group of people that you choose to spend your time with and choose to hang out with. So, on Brown, you're supposed to stick with your pod. So, my pod is the people I live with, so it's the people who are my neighbors, and it's been really fun. There's four of us in total, and I think our pod can only be up to six people, but I'm not definitive on the number.
The Insider: Is that in a dorm or in an apartment?
Ana Claire Piacentini: In a dorm room.
The Insider: Do most undergraduates lives in dorms at Brown?
Ana Claire Piacentini: Freshman and sophomore year, you have to live in a dorm room.
The Insider: So you admire the administration.
Ana Claire Piacentini: They've really done a good job.
The Insider: How do your friends feel? Same way, would you say?
Ana Claire Piacentini: The same way, yes. If you look at the health of our campus, it's been very healthy, for the entirety of the semester, and I think it's because they've taken so many precautions with the testing. If you don't get tested once every four days, they send you multiple e-mails;. They'll eventually call you, I believe. And it's a violation of the code of conduct, which has been clearly outlined, so you know whether you're breaking rules or not.
The Insider: So you could be thrown out of the school for not complying with it?
Ana Claire Piacentini: Potentially, but I haven't heard of any of those cases. I've heard of some cases where students are potentially on probation, but for the most part, I don't think anyone's been kicked out of school yet.
The Insider: That's good. Why do you think people are so compliant on campus?
Ana Claire Piacentini: Because I think everyone knows it's a privilege to be here, so, people are doing, I guess, the most they can to be able to stay on campus and assure that everyone's healthy.
The Insider: Now, what does the future look like, and what are they doing, now, because the rates are going up?
Ana Claire Piacentini: So, we're going home [for the rest of the semester]. I'm going home on Friday of this week, for Thanksgiving, but as of now, sophomores are allowed back on campus in the spring. Their original Covid plan was to break, like, the year up into trimesters. So, seniors, juniors, and sophomores are on campus, concurrently. And then, in the spring, it was supposed to be freshmen, juniors, and seniors. And then, in the summer, it was supposed to be sophomores and freshmen. But as of now, that's not happening, and sophomores are back on campus, as well. So, that's what we've heard. We register for classes tomorrow, and as of now, we're coming back, but I'm not sure if that's going to happen.
The Insider: What are they doing about Thanksgiving? How is that working?
Ana Claire Piacentini: We have to get a negative Covid test before we go home, and then, they kind of just set us free. What we do is we have to return our key and put in the range of dates that we're leaving. So we'll submit our key, get our last Covid test, and hopefully test negative, and then we can go home. And if you test positive, you have to isolate.
The Insider: It sounds like a model program, but –
Ana Claire Piacentini: It really is.
The Insider: But it's disturbing, of course, that it's starting to go up a little bit, even despite all of the precautions.
Ana Claire Piacentini: I think just the health of the state of Rhode Island hasn't been doing so great, and just because I think the exposure of people coming on College Hill. That's what we call Brown's campus, where it's situated in the city.
The Insider: Are Brown's rates lower than the regular population,?
Ana Claire Piacentini: I'm not 100 percent sure, but I would think so, just because our asymptomatic testing. I think we test about 2,000 people – these numbers I'm pulling out of thin air, so I'm not 100 percent sure, but we got – 27 people were asymptomatic and tested positive.
The Insider: Are you worried, personally, at this point?
Ana Claire Piacentini: I wouldn't say I'm worried, I'm just definitely taking more precautions than I had. I've been very cautious for the entirety of the semester, but now I'm trying not to leave my room, for the most part.
And, like, I'll go outside and do work if it's nice, but I'm not going to leave my room if it's unnecessary. I'll run and I'll go get food, and that's pretty much the only exception for me to leave my room.
The Insider: So, your lifestyle now is studying.
Ana Claire Piacentini: Yes, it is. Honestly, school has been very difficult this semester. The workload's been very tough.. I think that's across the board for every student here. But I think, the combination of having to do Zoom classes online, plus, the amount of work, kind of feels like you're sitting staring at a screen all day. Going and walking to class and seeing your friends in class,was kind of a break. And plus, too, it's always very nice to see the professors in-person, because you kind of develop nice relationships with them. So that's kind of been a bit difficult, this semester.
The Insider: You have no in-person classes at all.
Ana Claire Piacentini: I have one. So, it was an option to go in-person, and I've been going, but as of now, I don't think I'm going to go, this week.
The Insider: Which class was it?
Ana Claire Piacentini: Social statistics.
The Insider: And how often did you meet?
Ana Claire Piacentini: We met twice a week, but I could only go one day a week, because he divided up the students who wanted to go, just to alleviate the numbers in the classroom.
The Insider: Describe what the physical situation was:--very socially distanced and all of that?
Ana Claire Piacentini: It was extremely socially distanced. There were maybe seven kids in the class, and it was a huge classroom. And the professor sat behind a plexiglass screen and taught us. And everyone wore a mask, so.
The Insider: They couldn't be any more careful. Would I be right in thinking