What It’s Really Like To Have COVID-19 In College

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This is a very special and personal guest post. When my son was diagnosed with COVID-19 thousands of miles away from home, I was so worried. Since we hardly had any information on what his 10 days of self-isolation entailed, I asked him to reflect on his experience. He wrote this essay so other students and families can know what it’s like to be isolated and quarantined when you have COVID-19 in college. Special thanks to the Northwestern University COVID response team and case managers that checked in on my son, to Rabbi Mendy of Chabad Northwestern for delivering food on Friday evenings, and to all my friends who calmed me down. You can find my perspective here.

By Michael Braun

As I boarded the plane from Miami to Chicago, I reminisced about my past few weeks. I had just received my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine and had a fantastic spring break with college friends, home friends, and family. Almost all of the people who were unprotected from the virus, at the time, that I was with had tested positive. Although I had all the symptoms, I tested negative for a week straight and thought I had somehow quickly developed protection from my first dose. I couldn’t believe it. I bragged to everyone, saying “I dodged COVID!” Despite the high I was riding on, I was nervous to return to campus. Winter quarter had not been easy mentally, and I wondered if the feelings that had plagued me then would manifest themselves once more. 

Once I arrived to Evanston on what was the warmest day of the year, those concerns quickly subsided. I instantly ran into a bunch of friends and felt welcomed and, in a way, home. That night, I enjoyed hanging out with those I hadn’t seen in a while, and also took advantage of the fact that I had the dorm to myself, as my roommate wouldn’t be in until the next day. 

Things changed in an instant

I woke up the next morning ready to seize the day. I had scheduled a gym appointment, went to take my required COVID test, and decided to grab breakfast, something I had not been doing before and planned to implement into my routine. As I entered the basement where I eat breakfast, I said hi to a few friends and simultaneously received a call from the school.

I answered the phone only to hear “Hello, have you seen your test result yet?” My heart instantly dropped, and my thoughts began to race. I just spent a week at home. Did I give the virus to my family? Will the thoughts I was so worried about come back to haunt me as I sit in isolation? How is this even possible? I instantly left the basement without even eating breakfast and began to pack my bags. My roommate, whom I was very excited to see and spend time with, had just recovered from COVID and was on his flight to Chicago. 

Overall, I was confused. I had tested negative for an entire week, and my symptoms had just alleviated (not to mention I received my second dose three days prior). To add fuel to the flame, my friends who had tested positive were set to leave the isolation dorms the night I got in. Either way, I had no choice to roll with the punches and make my way towards my new dorm for ten days. 

10 days of isolation

Upon arrival, I ran into one of my friends I had seen over spring break. It was his last day, and as he saw me, he said “Dude, I’m sorry.” I was about to spend ten days isolated from society. Admittedly, I was scared to be alone for so long. My friend told me about his experience, pointing out that “the first five days flew by, but on day seven I went crazy.” There were several other people I knew in there for that night, and we even watched a movie together. As the clock started to approach midnight, I could see the happiness in their faces, and could sense the jealousy beginning to appear on mine. 

As I woke up for my first day, I felt uneasy. I immediately decided that I needed to establish a routine. The first thing I did was call my mom. She was the first person I thought to call, as I knew she would always be available to pick up and support me. This was something I made sure to do every morning throughout my stay in isolation. On the first day, I got out of bed and tried to keep myself occupied with schoolwork. This was also a recurring theme through the days as it was a form of structure. I had just recovered from the symptoms I had back home, so fortunately physical health was not an issue. 

Overall, my days consisted of talking to my family and some friends, staying on top of my schoolwork, playing chess, and watching Netflix. I also cannot forget to mention the daily calls from the housing coordinators to check in on me which, honestly, helped. 

Suddenly, I had entered a state of flow. My friend was right: the first five days did fly by. As a matter of fact, I kind of enjoyed being able to focus on myself. The meals weren’t THAT bad, and I was able to order a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream every day. Aside from having to ignore social media to avoid feeling like I was missing out, being alone was not as difficult as I thought it would be. I realized that solitude is not the same as loneliness. 

I realized that solitude is not the same as loneliness. 

On the evening of the sixth day, I heard a group of people outside saying hi to one of their friends who was also stuck in COVID isolation. To be honest, this made me feel a bit lonely, as I only had my roommate and the Chabad Rabbi visit me throughout my stay, waving so I could see them from my window. This wasn’t a big deal, however, as I was staying in touch with friends over the phone and understood everyone had their own things to take care of. I also made sure to reassure myself that friendship is about the quality of relationships, not quantity. 

Although I tried to ignore it, this feeling lingered into my seventh day. Once again, my friend was right; this day was the toughest. I felt lethargic and unmotivated all day despite keeping my routine. This was also the day my roommate stopped by my window, which definitely helped. Additionally, later that day I learned that I was accepted into a selective business club I had applied for. I couldn’t complain at that point, and got back on track.

I am writing this on day nine. I haven’t been outside in almost ten days, and haven’t been able to do any physical activity aside from walking up and down the hallway. I am excited to return to normalcy and interact with the people I love to be around. I hope to start going to the gym often, continue doing well in school, and develop more long-lasting relationships.

Reflections on having COVID-19 in college

In hindsight, the weekends were the roughest, as I missed two of them and am used to going out on Fridays and Saturdays. I definitely had some FOMO on those nights. Making sure to speak with people I know care about me on a daily basis was also a key to keeping me sane. 

Being alone also allowed me to introspect and really think about what is important to me. I realized a lot of the things I had stressed over in the past were unimportant in the grand scheme of things. I definitely want to make sure I keep some sort of structure in my life, as it has made me happier and feel more productive. This is especially hard to maintain with virtual learning, but it is something I am determined to do.

I feel good right now. As I think about the past ten days, isolation was not as bad or depressing as I thought it would be. I am excited for the rest of this quarter and what’s to come.

advice if your child gets isolated in college due to covid-19

If you want to know what I felt while my son was in isolation, read my latest post here.

Isolation dorm

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