Natalie Wykle was sitting in class on a September afternoon when she learned via text message that her roommate had tested positive for COVID-19. Unsure what to do, the Elon University sophomore and her six other roommates decided to get tested, although she said the university told them they could continue attending their courses.
But later in the evening, they were notified to start packing because they were going to be quarantined at the Tru by Hilton Hotel in Burlington that same night. With 45 minutes to pack up her belongings, Wykle had little time to prepare herself for this life adjustment.
“It's incredibly frustrating because you are given almost no time to change to your schedule, change your day-to-day life for 11 days — possibly more,” Wykle said.
Students who test positive for COVID-19 or are in close contact with a positive case are required to quarantine. These students are in isolation to contain the spread of the virus. But as a result of their solitude, their mental health can face negative effects.
Upon arriving at the hotel, students are checked into a room where they then begin their quarantine.
Some days in quarantine were better than others, Wykle said.
“There were days where I felt great and I was thriving off the solitude and meditation,” Wykle said. “Then there were definitely days where I didn't get out of bed because where else did I have to go? What else was I going to do?”
When sitting in her hotel room, Wykle made use of technology to virtually meet with her family and friends. However, Wykle said that talking to her loved ones over video chat wasn’t the same as seeing her friends and family in person.
During her quarantine in the spring and summer, Wykle had her family to keep her company but in the Tru, quarantined in a hotel room all by herself, Wykle’s two weeks’ stay was the longest time she had ever been completely alone.
“Even if you spend a day in your room, you're still coming into contact with someone. Whether it be a roommate or a person you walk past on the street, that's still human connection,” Wykle said. “And not having that for so long, it's a really different experience.”
These feelings of isolation were amplified for Wykle since her windows did not open and she was not allowed to leave her room unless picking up DoorDash or to go outside for her allotted 15 minute walk around the parking lot.
0.2 miles away at the Hampton Inn, Elon sophomore Lindsay Sullivan quarantined from Sept. 25 to Oct. 9. For Sullivan, with windows that opened, food delivered to her door and a responsive staff, she didn’t find any issues with the hotel’s conditions.
While Sullivan said she was surprised by how nice her temporary living situation was, she still faced challenges during her quarantine. For her, the hardest part about her time at the Hampton Inn was the lack of interaction as well as some sleeping troubles.
“I am having a harder time sleeping and it's hard to deal with loneliness obviously,” Sullivan said. “ I've never been this alone for so long and I feel kind of cooped up. But other than that, I've just been trying to find ways to distract myself.”
This lack of distractions is what Wykle found most difficult as a person who has dealt with anxiety over the years. With nothing besides her schoolwork to keep her days occupied she spent a lot of time in her head.
“All of your anxiety is culminating in your mind and you have nowhere to go to escape it because in real life you think, ‘oh! I am going to class. I don't need to think about that,’” Wykle said.
Students like Wykle who go into this two-week isolation period with prior anxiety and mental health issues often have a different experience than those who have not, said Elon
University Director of Counseling Services Marie Shaw.
“We're not seeing people often just because they say ‘I’m in quarantine.’ It’s’ I’m in quarantine— I have already had this anxiety and now it's exacerbated.’ And so then we're looking at again the larger clinical picture,” Shaw said.
While some of the students required to quarantine struggled mentally during the two weeks, others found no issues in their time alone. Elon counselor Dr. Christine Borzumato-Gainey said in an email that this is a trend she found in many of her clients.
“Surprisingly, I have spoken to a couple of students who have said that being in quarantine is not troubling. I believe many are well-connected virtually while in quarantine,” Borzumato-Gainey said.
Elon students who might be facing mental health issues while in quarantine or under the regulations of physical distancing can choose to attend the virtual appointments, workshops and support groups provided by counseling services. Students in search of a more informal meeting can also drop into the no-appointment-necessary outreach program, “Let’s Talk” to speak to a counselor on staff.
When trying to adapt to the new circumstances that are out of the hands of those quarantined, Shaw said the best thing students can do for their mood is to focus on the factors that are within their area of control and “accept that the situation for what it is.”
After finishing her two-week quarantine period, Wykle said she was surprised by the Elon community’s response. Several Elon employees contacted her to ensure she was healthy and that her negative test result was recorded for tracking purposes.
Although quarantining in hotel rooms is generally not an ideal situation for any college student, Wykle is happy that they have this COVID-19 protocol in order.
“Think there's a lot wrong with this system, but I do think I'm glad there's at least a system that is there,” Wykle said.