If you took a stroll on East Campus at the beginning of the semester and happened to find yourself standing in front of Jarvis dorm, you might have noticed the colorful poster hanging from one of the dorm’s second-story windows: “We are bored. Yell up to say hi.”
Previously a space for first-year housing, Jarvis has quickly gained notoriety for its status, alongside East House dorm, as an isolation space for on-campus Duke students who test positive for the coronavirus. Students in precautionary quarantine, meanwhile, are taken to the newly purchased Lodge at Duke Medical hotel. The students in these spaces are separate from the rest of the community, so except for scattered hints—like the poster—life there has been shrouded in mystery.
The journey to isolation begins with a positive test result—either your own or a friend’s.
First-year Michael Bell was eating lunch with friends when he received a text from a friend that she had just tested positive for COVID-19 as part of Duke’s pool testing.
“We freaked out because we didn’t really know much about contact tracing or how it worked, and we were just worried for her sake that she would get sent home or start developing symptoms,” Bell said.
Later that afternoon, Bell received another text from a different friend who had also tested positive.
“At this point we were thinking, ‘OK, we probably all have it, this is not good,’” he said. “One by one, we received emails and calls from the contact tracing team that we are being removed from campus and sent to quarantine.”
Students awaiting test results are kept in quarantine at the annex building of the Lodge at Duke Medical Center hotel, which is reserved for quarantined students to be separated from the rest of the hotel guests.
A similar experience happened to first-year Sophie Munro, who said the trip to quarantine wasn’t as dramatic as it was rumored to be.
She was told via phone call what to pack and when she would be leaving. Soon after, someone came to transport her to the Lodge, where she was required to stay until Sep. 4.
“It was a black van, but it wasn’t like they were carting me away or taking me to prison—nothing like that. Everyone was very friendly,” Munro said.
She noted that a clear divider separated her and the driver during the trip. Duke also provided her with psychological resources to assist her during her time in quarantine, she said.
Students in quarantine aren’t allowed to socialize, Bell said.
“We were instructed to stay in our rooms unless we have to get food or go outside for an hour a day to get some sun,” he said.
When test results are returned, a positive result sends a student to Jarvis. But students with negative results are still required to quarantine at the Lodge for the remainder of the 14-day period.
“I really want to ask for an antibody test,” Bell said, “because I can’t imagine that if at least four of my friends are positive I’m negative, unless I already had the virus asymptomatically in the past and have antibodies. I feel like if I get an antibody test and it turns out that I do have antibodies, the results should be enough to convince Duke to send me back early, because at that point I can’t spread anything.”
Although isolated, the students in the Lodge didn’t have any complaints when it came to living arrangements.
“The hotel is actually quite nice,” Munro said while living at the Lodge. “My room is a good space. I have a large bed, a bathroom, a TV, and a desk. I feel pretty comfortable here. Of course, it can be a little lonely, but given the circumstances, I feel like Duke did an amazing job making sure our accommodations and our space was livable for 14 days.”
The food tasted good, first-year James Gao said. And there was lots of it: ramen, danishes, sandwiches and more.
“I literally ate five meals in one day of quarantine just because it was all free and it all looked pretty good too,” he said. “I had some nice pasta, a couple sandwiches and a chicken pot pie.”
Students in quarantine have found various ways to fight the monotony. Bell brought his guitar, and he played and wrote music to pass the time.
“I also brought a book I never thought I was going to read, but I started reading it, because why not,” he said.
Munro spent more than an hour each day working out to exercise videos, a habit that keeps her sane, she said. During the window of time in which they’re allowed out, some students are trying to stay active.
“People will walk in circles around the parking lot just to get some movement,” she said.
Classes have continued for those in quarantine. Munro said that the professor for her in-person seminar class set up a Zoom call just so she could tune in.
“He put a camera on his computer, and my face was projected onto a big screen, which was pretty funny,” she said. “A lot of my friends from my class were sending me pictures of my face on the screen.”
But not all students in quarantine have felt satisfied with their experience. Gao said his trip to quarantine began with something relatively benign—a sore throat he reported on SymMon, Duke’s symptom-monitoring app.
“I expected them to tell me, ‘Ok, cool, we’ll set you up with a second test, just maybe don’t go to any large gatherings,’” Gao wrote. “Instead they were like, ‘Freeze! We’ll call you in 30 minutes!’ I was scared that I actually had COVID, so I went along with it.”
At the Lodge, Gao said that he struggled to communicate with the outside world.
“When I called Student Health after I ended up testing negative, they sent me to voicemail over and over again. I was quarantined a full 20 hours after I had already been confirmed negative,” he said. “The second day I was just waiting for someone to call me to be let out. If they didn’t call I was literally helpless. I had no one to contact. I don’t want to think about what would have happened had I been napping and missed the call.”
First-year Zoe Herlick was also sent to the Lodge after two of her friends tested positive through pool testing. She said that Duke didn’t contact her about quarantine until later in the day—hours after she found out she had been in contact with students who had tested positive. The dismissive treatment continued at the Lodge, she said.
“When I arrived at the Lodge, I was on hold for four hours trying to get myself a test, which was really annoying,” she explained. “I expected that I would get one the second I was contact traced, especially because I had a cough at that time. I self-isolated in the Lodge for two days, and then I got my test results the following day. It was ridiculous that the testing process was spaced out so much because if I hadn’t been aware of the situation, I could have been out exposing other people. I think that Duke should have given me a test the second they found out I was a contact trace.”
Student Health Director John Vaughn wrote in an email that student testing, tracing, quarantine and isolation are “a very complex and complicated process with many moving parts, all designed to protect the health and safety of Duke students and the community.”
“While there may be some occasional hiccups, they are measured in minutes and hours, not days, and they are addressed as soon as we are made aware of them,” he wrote.
After receiving her test results, Herlick was sent to Jarvis, where she counted down the days until she could leave her new home. Jarvis was a far cry from the comfortable accommodations at the Lodge. The food was “pretty bad,” she said.
She said she was able to socialize with her friend who was also in Jarvis after testing positive. But that didn’t take away the “creepy” feeling, she said.
“Jarvis literally felt like ‘The Shining’ because no one was in there. There were loud fans, the lights were freaky and it was just so quiet and empty,” she said “I only saw the nurses twice. I think hypothetically they were supposed to be there to help me every single day and ask how I was doing, but the only method of check-ins I got were from a Duke Health email account saying, ‘What are your symptoms today? How are you feeling?’”
Herlick’s symptoms persisted: a cough, chills, fatigue and muscle pain.
“A nurse gave me Nyquil, which was helpful, but only because I sought her out and was like ‘Hi! I’m not feeling well, can you please help me?’” she said.
Nurses from Student Health check in daily with students in quarantine or isolation, Vaughn wrote, or set up “provider video visits” if necessary. Student Health sends follow-up emails to students who don’t answer the phone, he wrote.
“Check-ins are not meant to be full clinical evaluations, so if a student doesn’t respond to repeated calls we’re not going to hunt them down,” he wrote.
Before their release, the quarantined students patiently waited for when they could return to normal life. Munro said, prior to her Sept. 4 release, that she was looking forward to the “little things,” like buying food from a supermarket instead of ordering from an unchanging menu.
“I’ve been really craving sweet potatoes, and they don’t have them at the Lodge, so when I get back I’m going to be on the hunt for some sweet potato,” she said.
Bell issued a warning to his peers on the other side.
“The most important thing is: Please pay attention to the rules,” he said. “I know it’s a pain to limit social gatherings because it’s the first month of college and we want to meet people, but quarantine is much less preferable than hanging out with two to three people at a time.”
For the unlucky student who ends up in quarantine in the future, Bell also gave a word of advice.
“Make sure you pack two weeks worth of clothes, because that’s a problem I’m running into,” he said. “I didn’t bring enough. I’m definitely going to have to start re-wearing clothes.”
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Alison Korn is a Pratt junior and enterprise editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.