I was napping Sunday when an email from my university, UNC-Chapel Hill, popped up on my laptop screen. I can’t say I was shocked.
Just weeks ago, I’d stepped into my residence hall for the first time in five months naively hoping in-person classes would make it past Labor Day (though my parents disagreed).
But as students flooded campus, the university’s hardline on social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic began to blur—a half dozen students would pack in an elevator meant for four, students studying in shared spaces would remove masks to take a drink and forget to put it back on in August’s sweltering heat. The same friends who posted pro-mask content on their Instagram stories this summer were now posting videos of them partying on their private Snapchat stories.
COVID cases exploded and campus morale deteriorated. In what seemed instantaneous, six outbreaks were reported on campus and in Greek Life residences, bombarding students with announcement after announcement notifying them of new cases over the school’s emergency alert system. Later, classes would be abruptly moved online after 135 students tested positive in the first week. It made national news. The Daily Tar Heel called it a “Clusterfuck” and that made national news, too.
So I wasn’t too surprised when the email from UNC said I’d been exposed to COVID-19. It didn’t say when or how I’d been exposed, but I guess it didn’t matter. I quickly packed up a COVID to-go bag like an expectant mother in her third trimester—clothes, snacks, meds, and toiletries. I wasn’t afraid. I didn’t feel anything, really. I was numb.
At 7:50 a.m the next morning I was standing in a line spanning almost an entire block of stores outside a strip-mall Urgent Care. I waited for an hour, but grew impatient and called campus Health to book an appointment for a COVID screening. I booked it down Fordham Boulevard and ten minutes later joined another line. I felt bad for the girl waiting in front of me who wasn’t there to get tested.
Within an hour, I was tested, informed of my two-to-three-day waiting period for results, and sent back to my room to pack for University-mandated quarantine—10 days from my exposure date if I test positive, 14 days from my testing date if I test negative. I stuffed more things in my bags—14 days worth of massive T-shirts, the dinners I meal-prepped over the weekend, wistfully thinking I might stay in the dorm, a blanket that smelled like home—and waited.
1/ packing for quarantine. Carolina Housing is supposed to call me sometime today with further instruction about moving into the quarantine dorm and I’m staying until my room until then. pic.twitter.com/nisa6Te0hA
— Claire Perry (@sclaire_perry) August 17, 2020
Around noon, Kala Bullett, the senior director of residential education for Carolina Housing, called me personally to let me know that I was being sent to an off-campus hotel to quarantine.
“I’m sorry you’re in this situation,” she said. I believe her.
When I arrived at the hotel, an employee handed me my keys and a list of rules, including instructions to inform staff if I enter the lobby, and instructions to wear a mask and gloves any time I was not in the room. If I didn’t follow these rules I would be immediately evicted.
The room furnishings were nice, but not gauche. Everything looked clean. I sprayed the room down with Lysol anyway—I haven’t received my test results yet, and I’m not taking any chances. The fridge was broken, so the concierge stored my medication for me. He was kind, even when I locked myself out of my room twice. If he was scared, his mask hid it well. I would be in his shoes.
My phone blew up with concerned and supportive texts and DMs. It was all too much so I took a nap, but just like on Sunday afternoon, I awoke to a different reality. My screen was filled with notifications about class cancellation, and announcement after announcement.
I didn’t want to think about my test results. I didn’t want to think about the “clusterfuck” that campus has become, or The Daily Tar Heel, a paper whose office I probably wouldn’t see again until 2021. It was truly a weekend from hell.
5/ Here’s the room setup. Notice the gloves and trash bag on the bed. Sanitizing wipes were also provided. pic.twitter.com/WBYZnATB1k
— Claire Perry (@sclaire_perry) August 17, 2020
So I turned on Avatar and ate a school-provided can of tomato soup. I turned the AC on—the white noise drowning out my anxious thoughts—and went to bed.
After waking up the next day, I did a couple of interviews and got a food delivery well after lunchtime. My classes were canceled. I watched an entire season of Avatar and ventured out of my room to get ice when I ran out of University-sent water bottles. I haven’t seen another person in over 24 hours. Hopefully, I test negative; then it’ll be just 48 hours more until I’m out of here.
Note: On Wednesday I found out I tested negative and drove myself to my childhood home in Cary to ride out the rest of my quarantine. My heart goes out to anyone who is still in on or off-campus quarantine or isolation.
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