Elon University’s quarantine policy, still unfamiliar to a majority of the student body, is becoming a reality that more and more members of the Elon community have to grapple with.
As of Sept. 8, there have been 25 total positive tests reported on campus since Aug. 14 and 69 students are currently in quarantine or isolation. The COVID-19 dashboard is updated daily at 4 p.m. and only includes cases that the university has been made aware of.
Elon University sophomore Bella Roy said she had to go into quarantine after an individual she had been in close contact with tested positive for COVID-19. Roy had a negative test result, but still had to undergo a two-week quarantine.
The two-week quarantine period for close contacts are the guidance and directives of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the Alamance County Health Department, according to Jana Lynn Patterson, associate vice president for Student Life and dean of students.
“More than anything, it was a little boring,” Roy said. “It was a bummer that a negative test doesn’t allow you to leave quarantine, but I feel like Elon did everything they could while still following CDC guidelines and state laws.”
Roy was able to quarantine in her residence hall on campus because she lives in a single and had access to her own bathroom.
“It was hard to quarantine because I knew that I wasn’t sick, which was more of a nuisance than anything,” Roy said.
Roy said being in her own space made quarantining much easier. She knows of individuals who live in pods on campus who had to relocate to hotels or other facilities off-campus.
“I know for them, it was definitely a little harder than it was for me because you’re in a foreign space,” Roy said. “You have to pack a bag to go to a hotel and start doing classes from there.”
According to health department guidelines, quarantined students are confined to an individual space and not permitted to leave or travel back home.
“We know it is really hard for students, but those who are COVID-positive or direct contacts should never leave and go home,” Patterson said.
Elon students who need to quarantine or self-isolate after contracting or being potentially exposed to the coronavirus will receive assistance from the university, according to Patterson.
Patterson — who serves alongside Ginette Archinal, university physician and medical director for Student Health Services, as the incident commanders for the Infectious Disease Response Team — said the university’s current quarantine protocols were built off of a basic plan that began last fall during the mumps outbreak.
Quarantined students fit into one of three categories, according to Patterson: COVID-positive students, symptomatic students awaiting testing and close contacts of people with a confirmed case.
Patterson said the term “quarantine” is generally used to describe the first group of students, those who have tested positive for COVID-19. Students who fall into this category are placed in isolation for a period of time prescribed by the CDC.
The same guidelines apply to students in the second group: those who have symptoms and are awaiting testing.
According to Patterson, symptomatic students and close contacts with transportation are tested at one of the off-campus testing sites, such as the Alamance County Health Department, FastMed Urgent Care or the Kernodle Clinic. If a symptomatic or close contact student does not have transportation, they can be tested on campus at Student Health Services.
“If students have symptoms that are concerning, we send them for testing or they may be assessed virtually, and then they go into isolation pending the outcome of their test results,” Patterson said.
The third group is defined as close contacts of people who have a confirmed case of COVID-19.
Roy was considered a close contact and said she was called by the Alamance County Health Department, who through contact tracing, deemed her as someone directly exposed to COVID-19.
Roy said she was exposed to the virus on Aug 18. and began her quarantine Aug. 20 immediately after she learned her friend had tested positive for the virus.
According to Patterson, if the health department identifies an individual as a close contact of a positive student and they meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s criteria — being within six feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more, or had direct physical contact with the person — then those students are also placed in quarantine for 14 days.
Regardless of any test result, students who are close contacts will complete the full 14 days of quarantine as that is the incubation period for the coronavirus, according to Patterson.
Patterson said the university is doing all they can to ensure the experience is as stress-free as possible and there has to be a proper reason for a student to be subject to quarantine.
According to Patterson, once a student is placed in quarantine someone from the university will notify their faculty members to allow remote learning to be instituted for the duration of their quarantine period.
Students in the same position as Roy are assigned a point-of-contact to follow up with them each day of their quarantine.
Roy said she had a staff member from student life assigned to check in on her each day.
“A lot of my professors were super helpful in reaching out to me, making sure they were livestreaming the classes if they were hybrid, recording them if they weren’t already and being really accommodating to everything I needed for the past couple of weeks,” Roy said.
In addition to aid from professors, students in quarantine have access to a meal ordering and delivery service.
“Students can go online to order their meals and dining services deliver those,” Patterson said. “If a student has a meal plan, we just take it off their meal swipes. If not, we put it on their student [account], but they don’t have to pay for it immediately. We make sure they have meals.”
According to Roy, a link was sent to students in quarantine to order meals each day.
“You could order up to three meals each day, selecting anything from the Lakeside [Dining Hall] menu and [dining services] would deliver it to your door,” Roy said. “You just had to order what you wanted by 5 p.m. the day before.”
Roy said the meals she had during quarantine were free because she had a meal plan, but according to Patterson, if the student does not have a meal plan, the meal costs are charged to the student’s account.
Patterson said student life is constantly clarifying and working with their partners at the health departments to make sure students in quarantine have everything they need.
“The most helpful part was having someone through the Elon Health Services that reached out to me every day to check in, update me, and answer any of my questions which was nice,” Roy said.
According to Patterson, faculty learned from students in quarantine that dining staff had a hard time getting to students staying in residence halls, and they have since adjusted protocols to ensure that would no longer be an issue.
Patterson said daily check-ins with students ensure all their needs are being met.
“If they are running out of shampoo, toothpaste or basic necessities, we make sure we get that over to them,” Patterson said.
Faculty and staff from student life are committed to taking care of their students, according to Patterson.
“Every time a student comes out of quarantine, we do an assessment with them,” Patterson said. “92% of those students were satisfied or very satisfied with what they had. When things have not gone right, we have learned from students.”
Individuals that have tested positive for COVID-19 will not only be followed up with by university staff, but the county and state as well, according to Patterson.
Patterson said the biggest thing students have control over during this time is not being a close contact and following all guidelines the university and state have set.
According to Patterson, the demographic on Elon’s campus is one where individuals can be very asymptomatic, and she suggested students assume everyone is positive and never let down on safety measures: wearing a mask at all times, being six feet or more apart at all times and for less than 15 minutes cumulative.
“Students have agency,” Patterson said. “Students have empowerment over that. It is really important that students follow all of these health guidelines because that’s going to make you least likely to get close enough, long enough to someone that might be positive.”
Roy said that she was content with her experience and believed that Elon did everything they could to ensure she was being supported.
“It is kind of hard to not go a little stir crazy though when you’re doing your classes, eating and living and sleeping all in the same space,” Roy said. “I am just grateful that I wasn’t sick. I would rather be bored than sick.”