By Sohan Gade ’23 (he/him/his), Staff Writer
Florence (Flo) Cuomo ’23 was just starting to adjust to life on campus when the Center for Health and Wellbeing notified her to report for quarantine in late August. Initially, she met this news with fear. She worried that it would affect her mental health and academic progress.
Cuomo first contracted the virus when she was at home in the spring; now she would need to start the quarantine process again. “They basically told me that antibodies expire after three months, so I still had to go in, which I was pretty upset about at first,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo is one of many students that have been identified by contact tracers as having been in contact with people who tested positive for COVID-19 on campus.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected college campuses throughout the country, with schools like the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University switching to remote instruction after initially bringing students back. The pandemic requires diligent planning; for instance, Davidson’s COVID-19 dashboard updates every weekday to show current cases. Quarantine procedures are also an integral part of these plans.
Positive test results indicate which students to place in insolation, while those around them may have to start a quarantine period. Students in quarantine are those found “within six feet for greater than 15 minutes, or in a shared living space (roommate/apartment mate), or within the 48 hours prior to the date of the positive test or onset of symptoms [regardless of if they had a mask on],” said Nurse Kathy Carstens, Associate Director for the College’s Center for Health and Wellbeing.
Students who test positive for COVID-19 enter isolation and must follow mandated procedures for 10 days, while students in quarantine must follow their respective procedures for 14 days. All students are monitored through a “virtual hospital,” regularly tracking symptoms.
Gray Eisler ’23 is one student who was following isolation protocols at the Carnegie Guest House. The daily guidelines included instructions to “log my symptoms: keep track of my oxygen saturation, pulse, and temperature every morning and every night,” he said.
The college tests students in quarantine midway through the period to check for any symptoms. Although a negative test may be interpreted as a good sign, it will not reduce the duration of quarantine.
“This is a hard concept for many to understand, and most think that the negative test result should mean that they no longer need to quarantine. This has led to frustration about the process,” said Dr. Robert Lutz, head of the Davidson College Medical Staff.
Quarantine procedures look different between students living on campus and off campus. Students with on-campus rooms who contract COVID-19 are put into isolation in college-designated spaces, while those in contact report to quarantine areas located both on and off campus.
Students living off campus quarantine or isolate wherever they are living. Off-campus students may have to quarantine for up to 24 days since they may still be living with the positive case. This means that an additional 14 days of quarantine is necessary since the positive case may be contagious during the 10-day isolation period.
Meals for students in quarantine and isolation pose a primary challenge for Dining Services. All students who have on-campus housing arrangements, including students quarantined at college-designated, off-campus spaces (e.g. Homewood Suites), receive packaged food through deliveries.
Director of Dining Services Pinky Varghese explained his team’s initial challenges, including dealing with dietary restrictions and preferences. “It’s complicated [when] people want 20 different kinds of food,” Varghese said. Dining Services delivers lunch and dinner, while they provide breakfasts with the previous night’s dinner package.
Varghese remains hopeful about this model.
“It’s phenomenal that we were so safe so far,” Varghese said. “We did a pretty awesome job, seamless as the numbers went up, I mean, there was enough support from the community.”
When asked about her experience with meals during quarantine, Cuomo expressed gratitude towards the Dining Services staff.
“I also had an interesting experience because I turned 19 in quarantine, which I thought was gonna suck, but it was actually really fun. Commons brought me cake, two different kinds of cake. They brought me tiramisu and cookie cake, and they brought me flowers,” Cuomo said.
Quarantine and isolation may negatively affect students’ mental health during an already stressful time.
When discussing coping mechanisms, Cuomo mentioned being allowed outside in quarantine. “Since we were in quarantine and not isolation, we were able to go outside and walk around as long as we wore a mask, and we were alone the whole time,” said Cuomo.
Hillary Elmquist ’23 viewed her quarantine as a time for reflection and connection. “We’ve kind of just [virtually] bonded because we were all going through the same thing. So everyone’s bored and wanted to talk,“ Elmquist said.
Overall, students like Elmquist and Cuomo greatly appreciated the college’s treatment during the quarantine period. They all hope that their positive experiences with the process will reduce fear related to quarantine or isolation and stress for others.
“I felt like I had everything I needed,” Elmquist said.
When speaking about isolation, Eisler referenced the college’s campaign of shared responsibility. “To keep campus safe, I would do it again if I had to. And I don’t think anyone should be scared of going to quarantine — it sounds a lot worse than it actually is. We are in this together,” he said.