I arrived back on campus after the break on Friday morning, and less than 48 hours later I got the notification: I had been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
Since moving in, I still hadn’t unpacked my bags from home from Christmas break, visited Barnes and Noble to grab my textbooks, or walked to my favorite Midtown coffee shop.
As campus wraps up its first month back since the break, more than 400 positive cases have been reported in the Tech community. Last semester the count totaled 1,600.
Due to the coronavirus’s infectious nature, every one of those positive individuals sets off a chain reaction of exposure, but up until now, I had somehow assumed I was immune.
Last semester, I vividly remember passing judgment on friend’s houses who were exposed or campus organizations that experienced outbreaks. After getting the message Sunday morning, my critical tendencies and judgment had nowhere to turn but to myself.
Even if exposure on an American college campus has become practically inevitable, for me the notification set off waves of anxiety.
Aware of my potentially infectious incubation period, I stressed every interaction for which I could be responsible for continuing the exposure chain. To me, carrying the virus was not just the potential annoyance of a couple of flu symptoms.
The past months have embedded news stories of overflowing hospitals, terrified healthcare workers, and family members unable to properly mourn loved ones. As a college student, I didn’t ever envision myself as the patient, but now I saw myself as the cause of someone else in a hospital bed — who had I been in contact with?
Terrified and embarrassed, I Facetimed my apartment-mates to tell them the news, and then contacted my RA, launching a long days’ worth of phone calls and surreal protocol emails. Worries were soon out of my head, made concrete, and investigated by contact tracers.
I ended the day in one of Tech’s quarantine beds, a solo room on the third floor of a chain hotel near campus.
If the skyline did not have the familiar collection of Atlanta buildings, I would have believed that I was on a trip to a city far away from school.
The professional and smooth way Tech handled the entire quarantine process truly would make the engineering department proud.
First, I had a housing staff member contact me and explain the process, acting as a sort of case member for my personal quarantine timeline. A doctor at STAMPS also called a couple of times to confirm my exposure period, symptoms, and answer any medical questions about the coronavirus.
A driver transported me from my apartment building to the hotel with hip hop music and a plastic sheet to separate my germs from his seat (I later found out from a friend that they fumigated the van after each trip).
In the hotel lobby, a key card and check-in envelope was waiting for me, giving a new meaning to the phrase “contactless” check-in.
At the hotel, staff delivered anything from meals to COVID-19 test kits to the pillow I forgot at home to the outside the door. They’d then call my room phone to tell me I had a delivery once they were safely downstairs again. For academics, my professors were also notified on my behalf so my coursework would be accessible remotely.
Even my hall director called to check in and make sure I had everything I needed during my stay. The whole time, all I had to do was stay put and see if the virus would show up in my system.
Between the quick accommodations and kindness of the staff members I was in contact with, my emotions towards quarantine changed from shame to thankfulness.
As an on-campus resident, I did not have to pay for the hotel or transportation there. When I raised financial concerns over the cost of the meal delivery, my case manager worked with me to discuss alternatives.
The fact that my classes had online accommodations and that my work let me take time off after exposure are immense privileges.
Even the PCR test kit that I was personally delivered on day 5 after exposure would be inaccessible anywhere else without waiting in long lines or having good insurance.
And after my quarantine time was up, I was able to safely return to campus, something that still sobers me considering the plausible alternatives.
Whether you lay in a hospital bed, quarantine bed, or your own bed safely at home, I wish you health, peace and the reminder that you can only control one next right action.
For me, the next action is this — thanking my case managers at Tech for their tireless work keeping campus safe.
Say what you will about the Tech administration’s handling of the virus, but after my experiences to start the semester I more clearly saw their efforts at work.
To those individuals that helped me when I was possibly contagious, I see the work that went into it, and I am so appreciative.
Oh, and for anyone reading who should embark on a stay in the quarantine hotel, here are some quick tips: the rooms are about eleven steps long so consider bring a yoga mat for at-home workouts.
My room had a mini-fridge, but no microwave. Pack your own coffee. The Chrome extension “Teleparty” allows you to watch your favorite shows with friends remotely.
Finally, know that on the other side of your stay, you’ll never be more thankful to walk around campus in your mask, free.